Year
1997

Author
Brian McNaughton

Summary

A collection of horror-fantasy stories set in a decadent world where the humans are just as repulsive as the monsters who dwell in the shadows. Writer, Alan Rodgers, describes the book as follows:

Imagine what Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings would have been if Tolkien had tried to tell that story sympathetically from the point of view of the human denizens of Mordor.

McNaughton, Brian. The Throne of Bones (Kindle Locations 56-57). Wildside Press. Kindle Edition.

Review

While I partially agree with Mr. Rodger’s sentiment, it does little to fully prepare you for the intense ride that is The Throne of Bones. Not even the denizens of Mordor are this despicable. The foulest acts humankind has conjured up can all be found in this book, told in excruciatingly grotesque detail. These deplorable acts occur with such frequency, with such regularity,  as to suggest a kind of normalcy within this world that is both shocking and horrific to behold.

This is not a book I’d recommend to people with weak constitutions for gore or to horror fans whose love for the genre is still in its infancy. The following is a quote from the book and if you can not handle this kind of graphic exposition, then this material is not for you:

I had intruded upon a foul parody of some grand lord’s audience. The ghoul lounged naked on a throne of bones that I recognized from my earlier visit to the underworld, toying shamelessly as might an idiot with his gigantic phallus. To describe this organ, which seemed in a permanent state of inflamed erection, would require a specialist in the maladies said to be inflicted by Filloweela on those who earn her hatred. The pimpled and knobbed and suppurating obscenity served the ghoul as a lord’s scepter. One by one, suppliants were led forward to petition him by ushers, swathed and hooded in black. All were first required not just to humiliate themselves but to demonstrate their total contempt for cleanliness and decency by kissing this rod of office.

McNaughton, Brian. The Throne of Bones (Kindle Locations 4380-4385). Wildside Press. Kindle Edition.

The Definitive Ghoul Novel

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Ghouls were once a popular foil in the pulp magazines, but have since fallen out of vogue in lieu of their undead cousins, the zombie and the vampire. Personally, I’ve always found them to be quite boring because they lack defining traits. An undead fiend that stalks graveyards and consumes human flesh sounds an awful lot like a zombie. McNaughton’s crowning achievement with this book is the intrigue it brings to a monster I’ve always viewed as subpar. Not all of the short stories in this book are about ghouls, but the ones that were stood out to me the most.

McNaughton’s ghouls have clearly defined rules and traits. He gives them a hook that spits in the banality of all past iterations. He does not romanticize them, though some of the denizens of his twisted fantasy world do. It’s not long before these characters come face to face with the horrifying reality of the being and suffer greatly for their ignorance.

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Because McNaughton’s dark world is populated by characters who are monsters in their own right, it’s quite possible that a paranormal creature could have lost its potency, but this is not so. In fact, I would argue that this elevates the effectiveness of the ghoul, for what is a monster that is feared by all other monsters? No matter the cruelty of the humans, it could never equate to the corruption of the ghouls, who represent evil in its purest form. These ghouls are genuinely bone-chilling and I would recommend this book as a must-read for anyone who wishes to effectively use them in their own works.

In my opinion, this book would have benefited from having a map and a glossary. McNaughton’s antiquated prose is a perfect fit for the world he built. However, he tends to throw plenty of exotic names at his readers, often in mass and sometimes consecutively. Without a proper map or glossary, it can come off as a mad man’s gibberish rather than proper world building. It can be a challenge to keep track of it all. Since all of his stories are only loosely related, it is especially difficult when he references a character or location from another story.

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That being said, The Throne Of Bones is well worth your time. It does for ghouls what Dracula did for the vampire and accomplished something I thought I’d never see. It made ghouls fucking cool.