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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Throne of Bones
by Brian McNaughton
Terminal Fright/341 pp./$35
ISBN 0-9648135-0-9

I put off reading The Throne of Bones for a quite a while. Although I have a nodding acquaintance with H. P. Lovecraft and a distant memory of Tolkien -- Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany simply aren't part of my background. The Throne of Bones seemed to need an appreciation of such to recommend it. Or so I thought.

The Throne of Bones is the first book published by Ken Abner's Terminal Fright Publications. I looked at it: A handsome book with creditable art by Jamie Oberschlake. Abner writes on the cover flaps that this collection blew him away and he obviously believes in it. I know Ken and he's a sincere guy not given to exaggerated hype. For him to be this enthusiastic -- well, it was, at least, worth a quick read. That wasn't possible. Once I entered Brian McNaughton's rich, dark world, I realized I had been captured and mastered. As I read I quickly submitted to McNaughton's prose, found myself going at his pace as I began to savor every word with delight.

The Throne of Bones is decadent, witty, satiric, original fantasy that may owe it's genesis to earlier sources, but stands alone in singular weirdness. McNaughton creates a nasty, merciless world with his wickedly keen use of language and a sinfully splendid ability to show the details of his creation.

The created world is never named in the ten inter-related stories. (The title tale is actually six short pieces, so really fifteen.) Life is brutish, short, carnal, and frequently beset with ghouls. Yes, ghouls. McNaughton writes in one story:

For all their laughter, ghouls are a dull lot. Hunger is the fire in which they burn, and it burns hotter than the hunger for power over men or for knowledge of the gods in a crazed mortal. It vaporizes delicacy and leaves behind only a slag of anger and lust. They see their fellows as impediments to feeding, to be mauled and shrieked at when the mourners go home. They are seldom alone, not through love of one another's company, but because a lone ghoul is suspected of stealing food. Their copulation is so hasty that distinctions of sex and identity are often ignored.

The ghouls also acquire the memories of those they feed upon and assume the physical likeness of their meals -- and McNaughton gleefully exploits this in a variety of ways in his stories.

Much of the world McNaughton weaves is given substance by his exotic but logical naming: of places (the city Crotalorn, the Cephalune Hills, and the necropolis of Dreamers' Hill...); discordant family Houses (Cronden, Vogg, Fard, Sleith, Glyphth, Vendren); men (Qudomass Phunosa, Dr. Porfat, Picote Frein, Squirmodon, Angobard the Fomor...); women (Umbra, Phitithia, Dendra, Meryphillia, Therissa...) and of course, ghouls (Gluttoria, Arthrax; the evil Vomikron Noxis, King of the Ghouls...) The society bears a vague resemblance to Imperial Rome (an empress with a Praetorian-like guard, a pantheon of gods and goddesses, family clans, public statuary) as well as medieval western Europe (horses, battle axes, swords, nobility, warriors, scholars and poets.) Like all good fantasy, it's all familiar enough to feel comfortable, yet strange enough to fascinate.

I'm sure if you do have a firmer grounding in Smith and the like, you may find even more to enjoy about The Throne of Bones. But a lush use of language by an accomplished, witty, imaginative writer to create a dark realm peopled by unique characters is enough to recommend this collection to anyone. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.