Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Throne of Bones - Review of Brian McNaughton's Novel

 The Throne of Bones  by Brian McNaughton

S.E. Lindberg rated it: 4 of 5 stars

Fresh, Disturbing Escapism 

I am biased toward enjoying provocative fantasy/horror, and Throne of Bones delivers a pleasantly disturbing escape that is too shocking for young adults.  The first tale, Ringard and Dendra, admittedly should prove digestible to many.  Less so are the next six stories, which are a connected set (the titular Throne of Bones sequence) and should prove weird and jarring even to mature dark fantasy readers (can you say "ghoul erotica"?).  Here, the timid and disoriented may want to leave the book unfinished.  But hang in there.  With each successive story, the connection between characters clarifies as does the "rules" of being a ghoul.   All is consistent.  And Bizzare.  Excellent.  The book won a 1997 World Fantasy Award and remains fresh and daring, even now (2012).

Oddly-placed, but well-done, is a stylistic humor reminiscent of that presented in Cohen Brother's movies (i.e. Fargo 1996, Burn After Reading 2008); the situations are so dire and characters so pathetic, that you cannot help but laugh at their choices and predicaments. 

I was originally hooked by Alan Rogers introductory comments:
“You hold in your hands a book of stories that forced Brian McNaughton to write. Make no mistake: I don’t exaggerate. There’s a reason this book won the World Fantasy Award. The stories inside it are rich, fascinating stuff—creepy and unsettling and phantasmic. Imagine what Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings would have been like if Tolkien had tried to tell that story sympathetically from the point of view of the human denizens of Mordor and you’ll have the slightest sense of what you’re about to wade into—but only just a sense. These stories will make the same demands on you that they made on Brian: they will command and compel you, and fill you full of terrible wonder. And when you’ve finished them you’ll find yourself wanting more.” —Alan Rodgers

I disagree with the Tolkien call-out since it raises the expectation that the book would resemble Sword & Sorcery or Epic Fantasy (this book fits neither sub-genre).   The world is medieval, but there is little military or melee action (however, it is decidedly "dark fantasy").  Otherwise, Rodgers' note is accurate.

Abject People/Artists:  Many paint the entire book as being "about ghouls."  True the Throne of Bones sequence is ghoul focused, but that comprises only 6 of the 15 tales.  More generally, themes explore being an abject person, often with regard to being a misunderstood artist.  Many characters are artists and it seems very possible that Brian McNaughton was conveying his own ability to create and enjoy dark art (while not being appreciated by others).  Examples:

In the first tale, Ringard, a sculptor, and his painter wife Dendra, struggle to live in a world that shuns their union. The snipet below captures the protagonists ability to see hidden subjects and the ability of his father to not appreciate that skill: 
 "In every stick I [Ringard] saw hidden shapes, and I became obsessed with revealing them.  My father fretted that I meant to ruin him by turning his valuable firewood into whimsies.  I perversely maintained that my carvings had more worth than kindling, that they even justified the sacrifice of living trees.  Those captive owls and trout were really there.  Why would the gods let me see them, if not to set me the challenge of liberating them?"  Ringard and Dendra
Then there was Asterial Vendren, a misunderstood writer of horror fiction:
"I [Asteriel Vendren, writer] seldom give readings anymore.  I am sick of women who scream or faint, men who grumble, "Barbarous!" or "Obscene!", sick of the self-righteous show they make of stamping out before I finish.  And half of those who remain, of ocurse, will approach me to ask if I really skinned my mistress to preserve her exquisite tattoos, and might they not call on me to examine the artwork?"  The Vendren Worm
And ... the body painter Tiphytsorn Glocque (who continually strives to find unique, brilliant ways to decorate skin) laments as he is arrested and brought before a magistrate for being a lunatic:
 "How could anyone understand his Art when they couldn't even see it? " The Art of Tiphystorn Glocque 
Many more examples pervade the book.  Amplifying the artistic themes are a dozen grotesque, full-page paintings from the cover artist, Jamie Oberschlake.  Incidentally, he continues to produce disturbing paintings (Link).

No maps or  index? I was taken by the promise on the Dust Jacket by publisher Ken Abner (Terminal Fright) that promised that he had a genuine map and promised to published it with additional material at a later date.  Sadly, that was claimed in 1997, I cannot find any related sequels for sale, and Brian has passed away in 2004.  

Jeff Van Dermeer Interview did interview the author in 1999 (available online- Link) and revealed that Brian was not keen on sharing his map:
JVD: The dust jacket for the book includes an appreciation by the publisher, Ken Abner. He mentions you have a whole chronology and set of maps for Seelura. You didn't want these published with the collection. Abner mentions those items as "crutches." Could you elaborate on why you didn't want the chronology and maps published?

Brian McNaughton: None of that stuff is really finished -- and if it were, I would feel less inclined to write fiction about my imaginary world. A certain sense of discovery is necessary for me. Besides, I feel strongly that the stories should stand on their own. I have to know as much about the world as possible in order to convince the readers that I know what I'm writing about, and that my characters weren't found yesterday under a cabbage leaf. The late Lin Carter deserves our admiration and gratitude for all he did to bring dark fantasy to the attention of the public, but he's the last sort of person I would want messing around with my creations. Maps and chronologies only encourage such people.
Ultimately, a map was not critical to enjoy the book.  However, an index would have been much appreciated as the names of people and places proved disorienting.  When ghouls begin taking the pace of other people, an index would have helped keep me grounded.  

Brian McNaughton was a great artist.  Read this when you feel like everything in your book queue is derivative, shallow fluff.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sword and Sorcery...and Pugs?!

Do you belong to a strange community? I must...
I confess an obligatory urge to share a picture of our family pug "Shorty" who has faithfully provided comic relief and therapy for over two years without being represented on this blog!

Why now?  Why display her on an author blog with a Sword and Sorcery focus?

Because I am not the only one who has loves pugs and Sword & Sorcery! In fact, Dark Horse Comics must think any entire market of us exists, and we are worthy of our own comic!  They just released an announcement (below).  But the comic won't be available until this Summer... so all you Pug/S&S fans you'll have to be content checking out the below links.

Check out the website for excerpts!
...and here is the Dark Horse Comics Press Release! (copied below)

02/01/2012 11:49am 
The epic tale of blood and drool begins here! Keeping the tradition of its creator-owned mentality, Dark Horse Comics is pleased to announce its newest venture with Mike Norton—Battlepug!

 “I was really happy when people first reacted to the comic. It’s hard to predict if the public needs another ‘Giant Pug Epic Fantasy’ story. I mean, we all know those are a dime a dozen, right? Luckily, the story of a barbarian’s quest for revenge with the aid of our favorite four-legged freak seems to have legs,” said Norton. “When I first made the Battlepug T-shirt, people kept asking when the comic was coming out. So, I put out the webcomic and now everybody wants to know when the book is coming out! I guess now people will want to know when the movie is happening?”

 This volume collects the first year of Mike Norton’s Battlepug—the perfect opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the fan-favorite webcomic by Mike Norton, Allen Passalaqua, and Crank!

 Join Moll and her dogs Mingo and Colfax, as she recounts the legend of “The Warrior and the Battlepug”—a tale of a fearless barbarian, his trusty and freakishly large pug, and evil baby harp seals.

“I’m a huge fan of Dark Horse and couldn’t be more excited to have Battlepug published by them. Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Buffy, Star Wars—they put out some of the best comics currently being made and it’s humbling to even be on the same shelf with that kind of product! I’m super excited for people to read it and look forward to much more in the future!” stated Norton.
 Mike Norton’s Battlepug Volume 1 is on sale July 4, 2012!