In today’s world of speculative fiction there are several different genres of fantasy. Though I can remember the days when there was only one and we described the novels we read with multiple adjectives rather than high jacking for nouns. Even though there many genres to explore, I lost count of them. I wish there was one called solid. That is one word I would use to describe Greg Keyes The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone. Perhaps these four novels would qualify as traditional. I have heard that some are taking to calling certain novels traditional, because they engage in the use of cliches, or just copy Tolkien. Though there are certain aspects of Keyes’s work that could be considered over used, it isn’t traditional, but is solid storytelling.
The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone is made up of four books, The Briar King, The Charnel Prince, The Blood Knight, and The Born Queen. The most traditional aspect of this story is that the world resembles a very western one, with knights and their medieval ethos. There are several characters that the novels follow, making the story wider in scope and more entertaining. There is Anne Dare a young princesses of Crotheny and her best friend and servant Austra. There is Aspar White, a holter protecting the king’s forest. Stephan Darige, a young monk and scholar. Neil MaqVren, a simple knight, but powerful and skilled who serves the queen loyally. There is also Cazio Pachiomadio da Chiovattio, a cunning and witty student of the sword and women. That is just to name a few.
Each of these characters end up going on a different quest that ends up being related to the other quests of the other characters. They all grow in power and change as the story progresses. Each of their quests also ends up a little different then what they expected. Most of the time they are all very confused. All the quests center around the Sedos Throne, a seat of magical power. It seems that the lost colony of Roanoke, ended up being transported to this world of Keyes’s creation by a race of demons who enslave humans. The first child born in the Roanoke colony, historically, was Virginia Dare. Well, it seems she becomes a person capable of using the Sedos Throne and uses that power to free the human slaves and set up their own civilization. Events occur that begin to change this world during Anne Dare’s time. Kings’s are murdered, some people become immune to death, religious leaders practice evil magic, war is started and ancient myths come to life. I don’t like spoilers so I won’t give too much information. I will just go over some good and bad points.
Many may know Keyes from his work on Star Wars novels. The Kingdoms of Throne and Bone reads very much like those novels. They are fast paced, for Keyes is an action author. He does not spend a lot of time with inner monologues or examining the characters emotions. He does well with fight scenes, especially when it comes to Neil, Cazio, and Aspar. While this keeps the story running smoothly, there is little to no character growth, as far as internalizing the events. You really don’t come to care about these people, you might like them, and cheer for some of them, but never really become emotionally invested in any of them. The pace that Keyes sets is much like an action film, and like an action film, there tends to be some holes in the fabric of the story. That whole thing about the Roanoke colony coming to this world, Keyes never really says that, nor explains it. There is a kingdom in the book called Virgenya, and the people call themselves Virgenyans, but they play little part in the story. Keyes doesn’t explore a lot of his own world. The Briar King is a mythically being in the book and while he gets a fairly detailed write up many of the myths and even the Sedos Throne are never really explained.
All this aside, the books are fun. The characters are likable and the action is exciting. You may not get to really know the characters but watching them play out their destiny is entertaining. The love interests are pretty tame, but filled with nice sentiment. Keyes does not handle romance well. The villains are fairly interesting as well, as some can’t die, some are demons, some mad men. However, Keyes does paint a world with shades of grey, there is not black and white, good and evil, which is always appreciated. For all the shades this world possesses this is not a complex place. This is a straight forward, fast, fun read. That is why I called it solid, but now that I think about it, perhaps Action Fantasy would be better. If you are interested in some fantasy novels that don’t tax you, an easy read, to fill in between two more serious novels, try The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone.