The Last Witchking is a series of three short stories by apologist and author Vox Day, an American ex-pat who lives in Italy these days. The author has the singular distinction of being the only guy I know of actually kicked out of the Science Fiction Writers of America. That isn’t the sort of thing that happens to a milktoast personality. Before I picked up this short story collection my prior exposure to Vox was his acerbic The Irrational Atheist, a work of non-fiction apology.
When I started The Last Witchking (which I chose in part because it was free from Amazon.com for the Kindle) I didn’t know much about Vox’s fantasy world. I had heard vague rumors that he was writing a Christian reply to the superbly-crafted and spiritually toxic Game of Thrones series.
i couldn’t have been more wrong.
The short stories in The Last Witchking have nothing to do with Martin’s crime against fiction. Witchking is not directly derivative of any single voice in the fantasy genre. Instead, much like Jordan before him, Vox draws richly on the expansive fantasy lore of the western tradition while avoiding some of the more common pitfalls of the current writing generation. There is no dreary grasp for originality that comes in the tired meme: “Everything you’ve ever heard about vampires/werewolves/sparkling elves is wrong…” and then going on to present fundamentally the same mythological mechanic in story. Vox uses elves, dwarfs, goblins, and orcs without pretension. They’re called by name and act pretty much as you’d expect.
That isn’t to say that Vox’s presentation is unoriginal. His iterations of Roman imperialism and French magical feudalism are solidly grounded on a cultural awareness of both nations’ history (unfortunately rare in modern fiction) and thought-provoking in the critical what if that presents a Christian Romantic and French responses to the existence of monster races and practical knowledge.
Vox’s characterizations in these short stories are solid and engaging. From his nascent evil overlord to the tricky subservient goblins, every character is who he should be, and acts accordingly. That doesn’t mean that Vox falls into Brian Jacques’ stereotypically British trope that morality, like class, is an aspect of birth instead of a result of consistent choices. In fact, Anglo culture and theology are refreshingly absent from the stories altogether. Far too often fiction writers seem to dedicate their novels to the idea that America, England, or some sort of Celt-landia represent the pinnacle of moral and social evolution, which naturally means that a story should track some backwards culture becoming much more like we are.
“The Last Witchking,” the first of the short stories, is a captivating walk alongside a would-be evil overlord as he becomes in effect the last victim of his people’s traditions. Vox pulls off the difficult in making a potential potentate palatable, even sympathetic in some places, without negating the negative sense of their morality. The plot was engaging and relevant to his Throne of Bones novel, which I am in the middle of reading. I already feel that my time was well-spent reading this short story not just for what it has to say about Vox’s magic system, but because the witchkings themselves are relevant to the plot.
“The Hoblets of Wicccam Fensboro” is actually a holocaust tale framed with monster races. It was a fascinating and often entertaining read. Once again there were protagonists who were not, per se, good, but neither were they irredeemably evil. They had their limits, world-views, and it turned out very well. I won’t waste your time reiterating Vox’s story idea. He’s quite capable of self expression and explains the story in a helpful afterward.
“Opera Vita Aeterna” was a fascinating insight on what I believe to be one of Vox’s oldest ideas in this world: the interplay between Christianity and non-human races. In this case it’s the story of a master sorcerer elf who spends a paltry few years in a humble Christian monastery. This was easily my favorite piece of the three. It also illuminates a relevant point about Vox Day’s style. The man is educated, and while he doesn’t waste time rubbing anyone’s nose in that fact, neither does he write for the lowest common denominator. His Latin phrases are not challenging. Anyone from a traditional church, a mildly active amateur historian such as myself, or someone with Google Translate will do just fine from context or taking a minute to figure out what was just said. But Vox will not translate it for you. The same goes for his French in other places. I’m crap at Latin and relatively fluent in French, so I wasn’t bothered, but I was really happy to see someone with an education who didn’t spend a whole lot of space on paper apologizing for it.
These three stories are sure to please fans of the Dragonlance books, Tolkien fans, and Christian fantasy nerds alike.
Highly recommended, but you’re probably better off buying A Throne of Bones first. I have no doubt once you’ve finished that first work, you’ll get here sooner or later!