If you’re worried about story

One of the concerns that keeps being raised about Alt★Hero by people who are observably unfamiliar with the fact that I am a novelist is that the comic is going to be nothing more than anti-SJW preaching and attempts to trigger SJWs. But this is nothing more than confusing the advertisement with the product.

But consider the following review for one of my more recent novels, A Sea of Skulls:

Better then GOT

I read a lot of fiction. Vox’s writing skill is superb. He takes no shortcuts with weaving his tale. Explores many different approaches in his books. In throne of bones he spans the life of one character in one chapter. In another he tries his hand a describing a battle from many many different soldiers views as they fight and die. In sea of skulls he pulls back a bit on experimentation and instead explores each major race in his universe from their perspective. Each perspective is unique and masterfully done.

Now, you may well be dubious about the possibility that my Arts of Dark and Light series is genuinely better than A Song of Ice and Fire, especially if you haven’t read A Dance with Dragons. After all, HBO hasn’t even made a television series about it yet. But if you look at the reviews of both books over time, you’ll see how the initial comparisons to Martin begin to fade away and are replaced by comparisons – admittedly, unfavorable – to Tolkien.

This is not indicative of a writer who is unable to tell a story, create memorable characters, or is prone to sacrificing either in the interest of delivering dogmatic, heavy-handed lectures. I don’t believe in either cheap heroism or cheap villainry, as both are the product of mediocre writers with insufficient imagination. While I would consider Captain Europa to be a villain and the Global Justice Initiative to be evil, he most certainly does not.

Nor do I believe that my favored side must always win. After all, the ultimate heroism is self-sacrificial, and I am not even remotely hesistant to kill off even my favorite characters if the story’s logic demands it. (The fact that this also helps solve the fatal perspective-character-inflation problem is merely a fortunate side-effect.) Nor do I ever indulge in the storytelling fraud that is so often present in Martin, Marvel, and DC stories; there are few literary devices for which I have more contempt than “bringing back” an obviously dead character. It’s not only lame and fake drama, it is unnecessary for the sufficiently skilled writer.

Here’s the thing: EVERYTHING triggers SJWs. It’s not as if we have to go even remotely out of our way to set them off. We can focus 100 percent on telling excellent stories and we probably won’t even need to go back and add anything in order to have them REEEEEEing at frequencies higher than have ever been recorded at the Metropolitian opera. Not that I won’t insert the occasional shiv and twist, out of nothing more than the pure joy of it, but we simply don’t have to. In these forsaken days of the Forgettable Squirrel She-Thing, just having pretty women with attractive bodies is more than enough.

So, if you are genuinely concerned about the storytelling aspects of the new series, you can either read my novels or you can simply wait to see what sort of stories we deliver in Alt★Hero. As for me, all I can say is that I am enjoying the challenge of raising my storytelling game in order to keep pace with the legendary Chuck Dixon.

And that, I suspect, is the real concern of the comics SJWs. They’re not at all concerned about our prospective failure. They’re concerned about our prospective success.

Mailvox: If this is failure

I suspect success might go to my head.

I actually put off reading the Throne of Bones series because I figured your fiction couldn’t possibly be any good. Why? Well, nobody can do everything well! You’re a clear political writer and superb thinker, you even had a band at one point. You’re an immensely creative organizer, you started your own publishing house… “What are the odds for this guy also being a good epic fantasy writer?” I asked myself. Also, the title, Throne of Bones kind of put me off. I thought you were referencing G.R.R. Martin. Well, I finally read it, and was delighted. Sea and Summa followed in due course. Your writing has the key characteristics that I value in excellent fantasy: resonance and novelty. There is a sense of familiar mythic themes, but rendered in a new and surprising way. Elves and orcs and dwarves and Romans! Oh my!

I noticed a mention that you will come out with a revised book (Sea?) soon. I’m wondering, why revise? Why not write another one? (Please?) Will the revision be an expansion where I can just start reading the new stuff, or will I need to read the whole thing again to find the additions? (Not that this would be a dreadful fate!)

Now that F&SF has become a loathsome wasteland of Social Justice and Abused Pronouns, we need more writing like this.

Actually, it’s not a revision, but an extended edition. By Amazon’s reckoning, A Sea of Skulls will go from 430 pages to 924 pages. I don’t quite see how that is even possible, since by my count, it will go from 165,000 words to 297,500. None of the existing story will be excised or even modified; I have no reason to change anything, and besides, I don’t have the time.

And don’t forget, The Last Witchking & Other Stories is now available in audiobook. I waited years to put any of this out in audio because I was waiting for the right narrator, and Jeremy Daw is just that.

An excerpt from “The Last Witchking”.

In the eyes of the villagers of Pretigny, Speer Gnasor was a boy not terribly unlike any other. He was taller than the other boys his age, but someone has to be the tallest in every village, and no one ever appeared to think it odd that at nearly thirteen years of age, the top of his father’s head barely cleared his shoulder. Speer was quick-witted but not remarkably so, although he was both envied and mocked by the other boys for his ability to read.

He participated in their games, albeit in a desultory manner. He was not unpopular, and if he had exerted himself even a little, he might well have made himself a leader of one of the little packs that divided the children of the town on lines roughly conforming with their fathers’ occupations.

Per Gnasor, his father, raised bees and made candles, and his mother raised the small flock of geese and chickens that provided him with his daily egg, and on feast days, the fowl for their little family. His two passions were fishing and books, and it was said that he had read every one of the twenty-eight books in the village at least twice.

The Gnasors themselves were said to possess seven books. By Pretigny standards, this amounted to a family library of almost mythic proportions. He dutifully attended the small church of the Immaculate twice each week, and if he ate the wafer and drank the wine given to him by the priest with little thought for what it represented, in this he was no different than any other boy in the village.

He was not an unhappy lad, and he was entirely content with his life as he found it. He did not, like some of his youthful acquaintances, chafe at the smallness of their familiar surroundings or dream of one day seeking his fortune in what, from the perspective of Pretigny, was considered to be the great city of Niederholen. Even the rumors of the riches of distant Stalchwil on the banks of the Ghlêne more than a ten-day journey away held little fascination for him. He learned to tend his father’s bees, to twist wicks and shape wax, and slowly, but surely, he even began to take notice of the butcher’s daughter. She was a tall, slender girl with a wide mouth and pale blue eyes who was nearly of a height and an age with him.

Left to his own devices, allowed to pursue his homely dreams, it was likely that Speer Gnasor would have married the butcher’s daughter, learned the butcher’s trade, and eventually become a fine, upstanding pillar of the local church and community.

But on his thirteenth birthday, everything he knew about himself and the world around him was forever transformed by a letter from his father.

After a dinner that featured rare treats such as Valoyan sausages and the sweet cheese called Niederholt, Per Gnasor sent him into the forest armed with nothing more than his warmest coat and a small shovel and told him to unearth his birthday present one hundred paces north of his favorite tree.
Both excited and confused, he lost little time in finding the peculiar oak with a thick lower branch that twisted over its leftmost neighbor, and paced off the distance. He had to dig a hole that was deeper than his knees before he struck something hard. With a little more work he saw it was a small wooden chest. His heart beating faster, he extricated it from the ground and opened it.

The first thing he saw was a letter written in an unfamiliar hand. Despite the shadows cast by the looming trees, there was just enough light breaking through the leaves to permit him to read it.

To my son and my heir,

You are not what you think you are. You are more, so much more. Kings and princes would tremble and scour the earth in search of you were they to hear even a rumor of your existence. It was to save you from their wrath that your mother sacrificed herself. It was to protect you from their vengeance that you were hidden away even from yourself. The man and woman you believe to be your parents are my true and loyal servants, and they have raised you at my command, even as they release you now to your destiny as they have been instructed.

You will be told many lies about your true kind, we whom the vulgar and the frightened wrongly named witchkings. But this is nothing more than fear. It is the shameless perversion of history by the vicious little minds of its victors.

As you will learn, we Wahrkönigen were simply dedicated to the truth and only the truth, regardless of its consequences and heedless of its costs. And what was this fearful truth, this dark god that struck such terror into the hearts of Men and Elves, Orcs, and Dwarves? Only this: There is no Good and there is no Evil. There is only what Is. Nothing more. Have the courage to grasp this fearful truth, and you shall be a worthy successor to the long line of kings before you.

I have prepared the means that you will require to learn both the Lesser and the Greater Arts. Master them well. An arduous task lies before you, but I know you will succeed, for you are my son and you will surpass me. And in the place that has been prepared for you, you will also find the answers to your inevitable questions, including your true lineage.

You are a phoenix raised by sparrows, my son. Now it is time for you to fly. When you have grown into your strength and become worthy of your heritage, you will set the world on fire.

These are the three charges that I lay upon you, my son. Instruct the Elves. Break them of their ancient pride and shatter the remnants of their kingdoms. Humble the Northmen. They must pay a tithe of blood for their treachery. Harry them throughout their islands and drive them into the sea. Preserve the Blood. You must not be the last of your line. Father many children, on many women, but instruct only the most worthy in the Wahrkunst. The Blood will tell.

You are young and you are alone in a harsh and unforgiving world, but never doubt that you were loved as few sons have ever been loved. For your mother and your father so loved you that they died for you, not once, but twice. We allowed ourselves to perish and we erased ourselves from the minds of mortals, so that you might live.

Your enemies, and they are many, will not find you until you are ready to be found. Be brave, my son, be strong, and never permit yourself fear. For you are a true Wahrkönig, and in your veins flows the pure blood of the greatest and most powerful sorcerers the world has ever known. Embrace your greatness, my son, embrace the Blood, embrace the challenges I have set before you, and one day, you will teach the world that you are harsher and more unforgiving than it could ever dare to be.

Avenge me, my son. Avenge your loving mother. Avenge your noble race,

Mauragh, son of Thauragh
King of Thauron, Nordandir, and the Wolf Isles

The three types of superheroes

Alex Macris explains his critical theory of superheroes:

  1. Ordinary person accidentally becomes extraordinary through chance.
  2. Determined person becomes extraordinary through dedication and will.
  3. A person born with extraordinary gifts lives up to their birthright.

These are, respectively, proletariat, bourgeois, and aristocratic views of human achievement.

The proletariat sees success as a product of chance. “He got lucky.” “He won the lottery.” “He don’t deserve what he got.”

The bourgeois sees success as a product of hard work. “I earned what I’ve got.” “I tried harder.” “It’s a meritocracy.”

The aristocracy sees success as a product of nature. “Some people are born superior.” “Blood runs true.” “I was born to lead.” Examples of aristocratic heroes are Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Green Lantern.

Examples of bourgeois heroes are Batman, Green Arrow, Nightwing, Ozymandias, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow.

Examples of proletariat heroes are Spiderman, Incredible Hulk, and the Fantastic Four.

Marvel’s mutants are interesting. A mutant who sees his mutation as a mighty gift, like Magneto, is aristocratic but typically a villain. A mutant who sees his mutation is a random event tends to be portrayed as a proletarian hero. Most of the X-Men fall into this group.

Overall, Marvel’s heroes tend to be more proletarian, while DC’s heroes tend to be more aristocratic, with bourgeois heroes in both. Under progressive influence, these roles still apply. DC heroes act with noblesse oblige as aristocratic patrons of the oppressed. Meanwhile Marvel heroes tend to suffer from oppression themselves, as in much of the X-Men tales.

Bourgeois heroes tend to be least susceptible to progressive re-purposing as their bootstrap heroism is inherently a conservative message. Hence the progressive critique of Batman for being a successful businessman who uses his skills to beat up criminals, e.g. oppressed people. A progressive Superman can use his powers to defend illegal immigrants, but a progressive Batman is just George Soros.

This analysis helps explain why the Batman movies had conservative undertones, and the X-Men movies had liberal ones.

As it happens, Alt⭐️Hero superheroes will initially be a combination of aristocratic and proletarian due to the unique collective origin story. But there will be more conventional bourgeois heroes as well as time goes on. As with most of my novels and short stories, there is the story, the metastory that encompasses it, and the metasquared story that underlies the whole thing that is not immediately apparent to the reader.

For example, very, very few readers of the Arts of Dark and Light epic fantasy series are aware yet of the metasquared story aspect of the series, if indeed any of them are.

A disappointment

‘Game Of Thrones’ Audience Disappointed By Season Finale’s Bland, Uninspired Incest
Criticizing the show’s reluctance to explore new creative ground, Game Of Thrones fans reported being disappointed Sunday by the bland, uninspired incest in the HBO drama’s season finale.

“You’d think this far into the show’s run they’d have found some new angles on incestuous relationships, but this was just more of the same, by-the-numbers intercourse between blood relatives we’ve seen before,” said local viewer Jaime Cohn, echoing the views of thousands of fans who complained about the series’ increasingly derivative depiction of sexual relations between siblings and other family members. “In the early seasons, it felt like the show’s creators weren’t afraid to take risks on fresh ideas like incest involving twins or even between multiple generations of the same family, but since then it hasn’t really progressed at all. By this point, they should be experimenting with things like group sex with identical quadruplets, but it’s pretty obvious that the writers are just on autopilot now.” 

Despite their disappointment with the episode’s lackluster incest, fans almost unanimously agreed that the show’s latest season had staked out bold new territory in terms of narrative implausibility.

As for myself, I was a little shocked. There has been no rape at all this entire season. Which would seem impossible for A Game of Thrones, until you recall that the series has passed the material from George RR Martin’s novels. But I’m sure Martin will rectify this shocking and uncharacteristic omission when he finally gets around to writing the novelization of the TV series based on his previous novels.
There is still a long way to go, but I have to admit that I am increasingly confident that ARTS OF DARK AND LIGHT will eventually come to be seen as superior epic fantasy in comparison to A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE.

A THRONE OF BONES is free this week

In Selenoth, the race of Man is on the ascendant. The ancient dragons sleep. The ghastly Witchkings are no more; their evil power destroyed by the courage of Men and the fearsome magic of the Elves. The Dwarves have retreated to the kingdoms of the Underdeep, the trolls hide in their mountains, and even the savage orc tribes have learned to dread the iron discipline of Amorr’s mighty legions. But after four hundred years of mutual suspicion, the rivalry between two of the Houses Martial that rule the Amorran Senate threatens to turn violent, and unrest sparks rebellion throughout the imperial provinces.

In the north, the barbarian reavers who have long plagued the coasts of the White Sea unexpectedly plead for the royal protection of the King of Savondir, as they flee a vicious race of wolf-demons who have invaded their islands. And in the distant east, the war drums echo throughout the mountains as orcs and goblins gather in vast numbers, summoned by their bestial gods.
Epic fantasy at its deepest and most gripping, A THRONE OF BONES is Book I in the ARTS OF DARK AND LIGHT. DRM-free.
The 924-page monster is also a free download for the next four days. If you’ve been holding off on dipping your toe into the murky waters of Selenoth, this would be the time to jump in. Of course, no matter how excellent, an ebook is no substitute for the beautiful hardcover or even the imposing paperback.
From the reviews:

  • “This hefty tome has a scope and grandeur rivaling George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but instead of mocking heroic ideals, Day celebrates them.”
  • “This book contains strong traces DNA from Umberto Eco and Neal Stephenson, but it stands on its own as a fantastically monstrous creature.”
  • “There are beautiful moments, there is clever dialogue, there is deep mystery. It took some level of genius to write it.”
  • “There are gritty moments and complex characters. But what really distinguishes A Throne of Bones from other recent epic fantasy is that Day hasn’t forgotten the value of beauty. ARTS OF DARK AND LIGHT is the most promising new series in epic fantasy.”
  • “He’s a far better writer than most fantasy authors you’ll find. His pacing is incredible, as somehow the last half of this beastly volume flies by with accelerating momentum, and the ending actual feels like a grandiose beginning while still bringing closure to most of the threads.”
Don’t forget that Book II of the ARTS OF DARK AND LIGHT, A SEA OF SKULLS, is a finalist for Best Fantasy Novel in the 2017 Dragon Awards. Or our new release, the brutally funny THE PROMETHEAN, which is presently the #1 bestseller in Satire.

The Wardog’s Coin, in detail

And considerably more detail than you’re probably suspecting. It’s rather like the start of a wargame ruleset.

In the interest of speed, Ulgor left his siege train behind but still possessed a potent force of heavily armored orc boar riders. Unless a means was found to neutralize this force the elves and mercenaries would be forced to retreat. In desperation, a risky plan was hatched and the ensuing night raid is an exciting part of story. The Sergeant and a companion are drafted to raid the boar corral, carried aloft and inserted into the camp by hawks, flown by elven mage/scouts. Depositing the conduits for elven magic around the boar corral, the Sergeant accounts for half the boar order of battle but his companion’s efforts are fruitless. This is enough to convince the Elven king to chance his luck and make a stand, defending the first village in his realm instead of abandoning it to the invaders.

Despite the loss of half his heavy cavalry Ulgor continues his advance the next day. The story resumes after the Sergeant rejoins his company and prepares to meet the final wave of attacks. The initial attacks only consisted of goblin conscripts whose sacrifice was intended to tire the defenders. This last wave consisted of goblins in the vanguard immediately followed by the boar riders, heading direct for the mercenary company, holding the weakest part of the line (despite being in the center the section of ditch to their immediate front is the most shallow). Ulgor’s tactics are simple, easily anticipated but still feared by the elves and mercenaries alike. The goblins are to soak up elf defensive fire, the boars will punch a hole in the line, followed closely by heavily armed and fresh orc warriors.

 The map below shows the positions of the various units as the goblins begin the final charge. Of note, this is the only battle map, fictional or historical, to contain the words “Big Arse”

The Wardog’s Coin is included in Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy & Other Stories.

Latest reviews of A SEA OF SKULLS

At Castalia House, we are intent on building gradually, on the strong foundations of well-loved series of novels rather than chasing one-off hits. Amazon has listed Arts of Dark and Light as a series now, and the reviews for the latest installment continue to be gratifyingly positive.

Epic Fantasy done right

Vox Day has a gift. He is exceptionally skilled at crafting viewpoints that are reasonable, relatable, emotionally compelling, and completely opposed to each other. This serves him well in the genre of epic fantasy, as it enables him to ensure the reader is fully invested in all the many pieces that make up the puzzle of a great fantasy epic.

Not only do his characters feel realized, his plot is suitably grand. From labyrinthine schemes, to an army that has yet to show its true terror, and a pervading presence of evil that threatens all of Selenoth, our heroes have quite the obstacles to overcome. With these first two books we’ve been shown small pieces of the disaster that is to befall Selenoth, and I for one, cannot wait for the next installment.

Simply Amazing

Head and shoulders above its predecessor, which is no mean feat! It manages to have multiple characters with completely different viewpoints without a) becoming a confusing mess or b) being disappointing when subbing in an uninteresting character for an interesting one, since all the characters were genuinely interesting. All were fully fleshed out and heroic in their own way. Amazing world-building also really made the story come alive, everything had a real sense of place. A fantastic read, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series!

The Saga of Selenoth Grows and Gains Momentum

One of my favorite, all-too-brief parts of Lord of the Rings was the brief view of things we get from an orcish perspective when Sam is temporarily bearing the ring on Frodo’s behalf; not with guilty pleasure because the orcs were bad, but because it gave us a glimpse of the world of Middle Earth and War of the Ring from such a different point of view. A Sea of Skulls, the second installment in the Arts of Dark and Light trilogy pentalogy set in the world of Selenoth–a fantasy realm where elves and dwarves, orcs and goblins, have been partially displaced by a Catholicized Roman Empire exerting powerful influence through the iron discipline of its legions–gives us that and much more.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like for Roman infantry, with their centurions and balllistae, to stand their ground against goblin hordes, war pigs, and orcish shamans (or have now begun to wonder), the world of Selenoth is for you, and the Arts of Dark and Light trilogy pentalogy  tells a complex and engaging story of war and intrigue set in that world as the various races of Selenoth are manipulated and set against each other by powerful actors in the shadows….

This is grown-up fantasy which makes for a decent study of human (or orcish, for that matter) nature, not to mention Roman military chain of command, and entertains questions like how the seemingly inevitable decline of an advanced but decadent elven civilization could possibly be reversed, and how dwarves unexpectedly stuck in their own tunnels might feel about it. The violence depicted is quite explicit, both in the grim reality of war and especially in the opening scene of a brutal orc raid on a human village, but not exulted in, and one manages to understand the comradery-in-arms of warriors on every side of the struggle, human or otherwise.

But speaking of trilogies that are not trilogies, let’s not forget the first quarter of John C. Wright’s excellent Moth & Cobweb series. The final book of The Green Knight’s Squire have also been getting excellent reviews.

Fantastic modern, yet traditional fantasy

If you like the old tales of elves, heroes, Arthurian legends, men and monsters and great deeds, then you will enjoy this modern retelling. Highly enjoyable and recommended.

A Fine Conclusion to an Excellent Adventure Trilogy

Swan Knight’s Sword is a fitting end to the story of Gilberec Moth, an idealistic teenager out of place in the human world who gradually becomes a brave, worthy, Christian knight….The same elements present in the earlier works are apparent here. Swashbuckling adventure featuring lavish description of mystical beings and surroundings as well as full-blooded, desperate combat. A strong sense of Christian morality. Many newly revealed secrets of both Gil’s past and the elf world.

As with the second book, there are a myriad of references, both Christian and pagan, expertly blended together. I was particularly amused by the one to a character of Edgar Rice Burroughs, an author all modern adventure writers owe a debt of gratitude to. Or the use of Roland’s horn.

However, this installment also introduces several new wrinkles. There is a more varied, consistent use of humor. Much of it comes from Ruff, Gil’s trusty dog whose barks he can understand. In fact, all the interaction with Gil talking to animals is funny. John C Wright evidently discovered the same comedic truth that Ricky Gervais has; personifying animals is always funny. There is also verbal humor and some absurdist situations.

Swan Knight’s Sword features an especially strong conclusion, being the culmination of Gil’s transformation from a strange boy into a righteous, mighty man. While it satisfyingly ends this tale of Gilberec Moth, it promises more adventure for both him and the world at large.

A worthy ending, a tantalizing beginning

Swan Knight’s Sword is the best in this trilogy. A beautiful paean of adventure, courage, honor, loyalty and love. This book reminds me of the stuff I read in my youth, before the fantasy genre was a cesspool of pornography and meaningless nihilistic violence. I laughed, I cried, I wished I had a sword. But of course one does not simply walk into MordorMart and buy a sword, one must be bequeathed a sword by a father, or win one in a heroic quest. And sometimes one must hunt down and confront the magically invulnerable sasquatch that stole your father’s sword. This is one of those times…

An introduction to Selenoth

In case you’re wondering what all the discussion of the various Selenoth-related books is about, or if some of the superlatives being cast about could be even remotely justified, you can now dip your toe into the epic fantasy waters at neither risk nor cost to yourself, as A MAGIC BROKEN is free on Kindle today.

The ebook is a novella in which is related the brief intersection of two perspective characters from A THRONE OF BONES and A SEA OF SKULLS prior to the events of either book. I think those who are fans of the Arts of Dark and Light series would agree that it is a reasonably fair warning of what the reader can expect from immersion into what is now, according to Amazon’s most recent Kindle Normalized Page Count, a cumulative 3,053 pages of epic high fantasy.

Anyhow, if you haven’t read it yet, I’d encourage you to download it and check it out. Even if fantasy isn’t really your thing, it’s more than a bit of a spy thriller as well.


A text sample from the newly released Book Two in Arts of Dark and Light, A SEA OF SKULLS, featuring one of the new perspective characters, Lugbol, the captain of a warband of orcs called the Black Fist. If you are new to the fictional world of Selenoth, pick up both Books One and Two, but start with A THRONE OF BONES for a combined 1,303 pages of truly epic military fantasy.

“I have tasted Manflesh! I have raped she-men! I have burned Man cities!”

Lugbol rolled his eyes. Who hadn’t? He was almost embarrassed for the big mountain orc, who was boasting of his accomplishments while stalking back and forth in a large circle of about fifty warband leaders listening to their warleader’s customary evening rant. As for the burned cities, most of them had held populations smaller than Lugbol’s own kai hari gungiyar. If they were the terrible Man cities of which Lugbol had been told frightening stories since he was a small orcling, then he was a one-armed goblin.

“Man-Zarki’agh shaking in their tents! Man-Kings on their thrones pissing themselves when they hear the name Zlatagh! Zlatagh Life-taker! Zlatagh Piss-maker! Zlatagh Man-eater!”

That was their cue. “Maneater! Maneater!” the shugaba’ugh obediently chanted, Lugbol among them. He knew that Zlatagh secretly hungered after the praise-name Mansbane, but even the giant warleader knew better than to risk stepping on the clawed toes of the Great Orc Azzakhar, whose claim to the title would certainly trump Zlatagh’s.

And Lugbol rather doubted any Man-King had ever heard the name Zlatagh, let alone pissed himself for fear of it.

Zlatagh was an imposing brute, though, even for a mountain orc. He stood nearly a head taller than most of the shugaba’ugh gathered around him, with a thick chest and heavy muscles that belied his violent speed. A pair of captured iron Man plates covered each powerful shoulder; two cow’s horns had somehow been driven through the center of both breastplates, curving upward like two spare pairs of tusks. Zlatagh’s own tusks were nearly as large; they were thick, yellowed with maturity, and reached nearly to the tip of his nose. Almost unique among the orcs present, Zlatagh’s tusks were unsharpened and unadorned with any bone, paint, or metal.

But that didn’t mean they weren’t fearsome weapons. Lugbol had seen with his own eyes how the big orc once used them to disembowel a goblin. The goblin had been wearing leather armor too, which made the feat all the more impressive. After Azzakhar commanded Zlatagh to invade the Man lands two moons past, the Maneater had found himself facing three challenges to his leadership, two of them on the very first day. Zlatagh beheaded one with the monstrous cleaver he called Headchopper, blinded the second with his bare hands, and ripped the arm off the third before using it to bash in the skull of the overmatched orc. At this point, only a truly thick-skulled shugaba would dare to cross the giant orc, let alone challenge him.

Nor, beyond personal ambition, was there any reason for anyone to do so. Zlatagh was a good warleader, and the warbands over which he’d been given command had enjoyed an unbroken string of victories under his leadership. More than one hundred Man villages had been pillaged and burned, and the orc encampment was littered with the broken remnants of trophies taken throughout the spring campaign. None could complain that he had not passed the ultimate test of leadership; providing his followers with more food than they could eat and more booty than they could carry. Not a single orc’s belly didn’t bulge with fat of the last two moons’ devourings, and even the most cowardly goblin wolfrider wore decorative trophies of one sort or another by now.

That didn’t mean Lugbol was entirely confident in the big mountain orc. Smashing sparsely guarded hamlets and carrying off helpless herds and captives was one thing, defeating a large and well-armed army of the sort that waited for them at the northwestern edge of the Korokhurmagh was another. Zlatagh could boast that the Man chieftains were pissing themselves and afraid to take the field against him all he liked, but it hadn’t escaped Lugbol’s notice that it was their forces who avoided meeting the mounted patrols that chased them throughout the woods, and that Zlatagh hadn’t moved their encampment one step closer to the Man army ever since its presence had been reported by wolfriders fleeing from the metal-clad Mandokki warriors and the huge, fierce, four-legged beasts they rode.

“Who marches today! Who takes the fight to Man!”

“Lugbol!” Lugbol raised his fist and cried half-heartedly, quite happy to be outshouted by other shugaba’ugh more eager to demonstrate their enthusiasm to the big orc. “Lugbol!”

In truth, he was hoping to spend the next day or three in the camp, sleeping, squagging, and allowing four of his wounded warriors to recover from their injuries. One of his trophies was a large keg of yellow liquid that looked like piss, tasted like honey, and hit the skull harder than ale, wine, or club. He didn’t know what it was called, but he fully intended to drain it with the help of a few select companions this evening. It was a pity no females had been permitted; a few abokhi’agh would just about make for a perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon. There were a few she-men in the prisoner corral, but Lugbol was more in the mood for some relaxed and drunken squagging than having his ears assaulted by the piercing shrieks of a raped man. Rape was a fine thing when the dead enemy was strewn about, smoke was in one’s nostrils, and one’s blood was up, but for now it struck him as being more akin to work than pleasure. Especially considering how he only had one good arm at his disposal at the moment.

He watched the Maneater nod with satisfaction as the big orc looked over the shouting captains vying for his attention. Zlatagh laughed, a deep guttural sound, as he basked in the raw power of the moment. Two months of slaughter and victory had given him absolute control over the shugaba’ugh, and it was clear that he knew it.

“The auguries!” Zlatagh cried suddenly. “Bring forward the augurs! What say Gor-Gor?”

As the shouting dissolved into a general cheering, Lugbol saw a pair of heavily tattooed orcs with sharpened silver tusk-caps push into the center of the circle. They accompanied someone; at first Lugbol thought it might be a juvenile Man, but then he caught a sight of yellow-green skin and realized it was a goblin. Nearly half their troops were goblins; they had started out with ten thousand but thanks to the inevitable costs of the campaign, there were about fifteen hundred fewer of them now. The doomed creature looked wild with terror; he seemed to have a fair notion of his imminent fate. But he was silent and he did not struggle; there was literally nothing that a single goblin could do to save itself, not when surrounded by howling, blood-hungry orcs with arms twice the thickness of his legs.

The augury looked to be the usual entrail-reading. For some reason Lugbol had never quite grasped, Gor-Gor preferred to speak to his priests through the intestines of his lesser worshippers. Goblins were the preferred method of communication, though orcs, Men, and even large rats would do in a pinch. He noticed Gor-Gor never seemed to speak through either wolves or warboars, two martial commodities that were always in great demand.

The goblin broke his silence when one shaman kneeled down before him, then ripped open his stomach with both silver-tipped tusks. As the other shaman held the victim, chanting all the while, the killer began calling out the haruspictic ritual and reached into the goblin with both hands. Then he began walking backwards, pulling the dying goblin’s innards out. After taking seven steps, he gave three firm tugs, then finally released the bloody, stinking offal and let it fall with a wet thud. The other shaman followed his example, stepping back and finally allowing the moaning goblin to collapse, dying, to the ground.

Lugbol saw the shaman raise his bloody hands and call out to Gor-Gor. The shaman’s eyes suddenly rolled back into his head and he swayed back and forth, as if drunk, while looking over the entrails spread out upon the ground. He took a step forward, then another, holding his palms toward the ground with his fingers spread wide. It was as if he was feeling his way through something rising up from the spilled innards. Several of the shaman’s tattoos flared into life; a rune on his shoulder blazed red and began to smoke as it burned away his skin, but the shaman didn’t seem to feel or notice anything was wrong. With nothing but the whites of his eyes showing, he began to grunt and growl. Gradually, the guttural noises became discernible as words.

“Fire,” he rumbled. “Fire burns. Demon wings of fire, burning, burning. Demons, iron demons, and death.”

The shugaba’ugh looked at each other, confused. This was not how the ritual usually proceeded. Zlatagh’s eyes narrowed and he made as if to step forward, then the big orc stopped himself. Even a warleader would not dare to lay claws upon a shaman in the holy grip of Gor-Gor.

“Death come, death come, on fire and iron, death come to all!” The shaman’s voice rose into a shriek and he thrust his bloody hands skyward. Then, he began to shake and shiver, as if Gor-Gor was attempting to rid himself of his puppet. Finally, the shaman collapsed face-first on the ground, where he lay motionless except for his labored breathing. Smoke, stinking of burned flesh, rose from three or four blackened tattoos on his back and shoulders.

“The Hell he say? What does that mean?” a furious Zlatagh demanded of the other shaman. One might have almost thought that he was alarmed. “What was the damn augury?”
Lugbol looked around at his fellow shugaba’ugh. They were agitated and alarmed, with one significant exception. Snaghak, alone among the warband captains, wore an expression that was full of fury. He no longer looked triumphant, he looked downright vengeful. And, for once, Lugbol thought, Snaghak’s hatred didn’t appear to be directed at him. He stifled a dismissive snort and returned his attention to Zlatagh, who had grabbed the smaller shaman by his tattooed shoulders and was shaking him while shouting in his face.

“I don’t know!” the smaller orc pleaded. “I swear, I swear by Gor-Gor’s tail, I don’t know what happened!”

Zlatagh snarled in disgust and shoved the tattooed orc away from him. Then a groan from the fallen shaman caught the big orc’s attention and he whirled around to see the shaman, his skin still smoking slightly, trying to push himself up from the ground. The injured shaman failed the first time with a barely muted cry, then his muscles bulged with effort as he succeeded in rising to his knees on his second attempt. He didn’t seem to have known what happened to him earlier, because he suddenly winced and looked down at the burns on his shoulders with an expression of pained surprise.

“You!” Zlatagh said, reaching out and pulling the shaman to his feet. “What did you do? What thing did you see in the guts there? What secrets did Gor-Gor tell you?”

The shaman rolled his eyes and slumped in the warleader’s grasp. His initial reply was a drawn-out groan, but when the warleader violently shook him, it seemed to pull him out of his swoon. “I saw death. Everywhere, death.”

“Whose death! The Man cities?”

“No,” the stricken shaman said. He stared intensely into Zlatagh’s face. “Ours. Everywhere, all throughout the woods, I saw orcs dead on the ground, murdered, all of them, by demons of fire and iron!”

“You lie!” Zlatagh shouted instinctively, before driving an oversized fist into the shaman’s tattooed face. There was a loud crunch and the shaman crumpled as if he’d been cloven through the head with a dwarven axe. Whether the shaman was dead or not, Lugbol couldn’t tell, but he wouldn’t be surprised either way.

Zlatagh pointed at the other shaman, who was cringing behind the corpse of the goblin. “You, read the bloody guts! And tell me the truth or I’ll rip your balls out of your sack and feed them to you!”


In Selenoth, the war drums are beating throughout the land. The savage orcs of Hagahorn and Zoth Ommog are on the move, imperiling Man, Dwarf, and Elf alike. The Houses Martial of Amorr have gone to war with each other, pitting legion against legion, and family against family as civil war wracks the disintegrating Empire. In the north, inhuman wolf-demons besiege the last redoubt of Man in the White Sea, while in Savondir, the royal house of de Mirid desperately prepares to defend the kingdom against an invading army that is larger than any it has ever faced before. And in the underground realm of the King of Iron Mountain, a strange new enemy has begun attacking dwarf villages throughout the Underdeep.

Beneath the widespread violence that has seized all Selenoth in its grasp, a select few are beginning to recognize the appearance of a historic pattern of almost unimaginable proportions. Are all these conflicts involving Orc, Elf, Man, and Dwarf the natural result of inevitable rivalries, or are they little more than battlegrounds in an ancient war that began long before the dawn of time?

Epic fantasy at its deepest and most intense. A SEA OF SKULLS is Book II in the ARTS OF DARK AND LIGHT series that began with A THRONE OF BONES.

A SEA OF SKULLS is 449 pages, DRM-free, and retails for $5.99 on Amazon and at Castalia House. This is the early edition of the book; those who purchase it now will receive a free copy of the 850-page final edition in ebook format if they a) buy the book on Amazon and send a copy of the Kindle receipt to voxday-at-gmail-dot-com right away or b) buy the book from the Castalia House store.

UPDATE: just to be perfectly clear, New Release subscribers are free to download the bonus book from John Van Stry regardless of where they purchase A Sea of Skulls.

Every author faces a few decisions when he writes a book, particularly when writing a sequel. Be driven by the market or be driven by the vision. Write more of the same that has proven popular or go where the story takes you. These are not binary decisions, but a series of gradients, and while the consequences of those decisions vary, there are no right or wrong decisions per se, only more effective and less effective decisions which depend entirely upon the perspective.

I made two choices in writing the second book of Arts of Dark and Light, and I have no idea if my decisions will prove to be popular or not. The first decision was that it had to be better from my perspective and more true to my original vision than its predecessor was. That’s why it has taken longer to write. Before, I was only dealing in existing human cultures. Now, I had to work in 3+ inhuman cultures as well, which proved considerably more difficult. The second decision was to increase the contrast. A moral dilemma where there is neither potential loss to the character nor moral consequence is no true dilemma. A choice that is obvious to everyone but an idiot is no true choice. Good people do bad things, and bad people do good things, but the character of a man is seldom defined by a single act. And, I decided, even the most minor character deserves to be taken seriously, presented fairly, and speak with his own voice. Or her own voice. As an example of what I mean by that, here is a sample of the text at Castalia House.

In other words, this is a “damn the torpedoes” book. It should be interesting to learn who likes it better than A THRONE OF BONES and who likes it less. But I hope you will enjoy it, and I hope those of you who read it will be as diligent about posting serious and substantive reviews as you were with its predecessor.

As a side note, I find it incredible to observe that, according to Amazon’s page count, there is now more Selenoth, with 1837 pages of Summa Elvetica + A Throne of Bones + A Sea of Skulls, than there is Middle Earth proper, with 1531 for Lord of the Rings + The Hobbit. It’s not as good, of course – how could it possibly be – but it is worthy of the title “epic”. I should mention that there will be print editions in April-May and they will be the final edition.

Thanks very much to Matthew, Robert, and Kirk for all their hard work in getting this out before the end of the year.