Book Review: The Last Witchking by Vox Day
This latest e-book is really a collection of three new short stories- the eponymous "The Last Witchking", an intriguing little allegorical tale called "The Hoblets of Wiccam Fensboro", and a tale concerning a very interesting character from the very first Selenoth book called "Opera Vita Aeterna". Put very simply, if you liked (and in my case, really liked) Vox's work in Summa Elvetica and A Throne of Bones, then you're certainly going to like this collection. The first and third stories are in my opinion more about tying off a few loose ends than about expanding the universe of Selenoth in any meaningful sense; this isn't like the previous set of short stories where interesting new characters were introduced in their own self-contained stories that could just be enjoyed as stories on their own. Unlike The Wardog's Coin, the first and third stories do need to be read within the context established by ATOB to be fully enjoyed.
The first story concerns the feared witchkings of ancient Selenoth, and might well give an indication of just where Vox will be taking us in the next instalment of The Arts of Dark and Light. The witchkings are Vox's equivalent of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, or the evil druid Brona from The Sword of Shannara- an evil so terrible, so terrifying, so destructive, that the combined might of the Elves and the nations of Men rose up to annihilate them in a war that shaped and defined the modern world of Selenoth. The way Vox sets up the witchkings is rather interesting- he sets them up almost as outright atheists, for the witchkings reject the idea that there should be any limits to the power that Man should be allowed to wield. Very early on in the story, the father of the... you can't really call him a protagonist, so let's just say "main character", pretty much says exactly this- that Elves and Men fear the witchkings because they reject the "truth" that nothing is off limits to the sufficiently Wise.
As the story unfolds, we meet the main character, Speer, taken in by adoptive parents and raised ostensibly as a perfectly normal human being, all the while secretly being prepared for his destiny as a witchking. The manner in which Vox Day reveals that destiny is a very effective literary device- there is no ambiguity about Speer's true identity as Ar Dauragh, the last true pure-blooded witchking, and his adopted family is killed off with a brutality and swiftness that might surprise those who aren't familiar with Vox's other works. Frankly I think other fantasy authors would greatly benefit from doing this sort of thing- I'm looking at you, George R. R. Martin- and avoiding these horrible drawn-out family dramas in which the main character vacillates between good and evil.
Over time, Speer's powers develop and mature, and he becomes a truly terrifying force in the world. He summons a demon, later revealed to be his "brother" of a sort, and uses that demon's powers to create the beasts that eventually become the aalvarg from ATOB. That is really the climax of this story, because it comes to a rather sudden end just a few pages later. As any longtime reader of Vox's work knows, his writing does not have much by way of ambiguity to it, so Vox doesn't exactly leave any room to the imagination as to what happens to Speer in the end. Without ruining anything, let's just say that it doesn't end well- for Speer, or the race of witchkings, or for the other races of Selenoth (as for that last point, you'll only really discover why if you read, or have already read, ATOB).
As I wrote earlier, this story and "Opera Vita Aeterna" are really about tying off loose ends. The whole point of TLW appears to be to illustrate three things:
- The origins and brief history of the witchkings, establishing them as a pivotal yet silent force within the world of Selenoth;
- The origins of the aalvarg, who were most effectively used in ATOB to setup one of the three major conflicts shown in that book;
- The true origins of the Chiu, the cat-people from "Qalabi Dawn".