Since getting married and having children (especially having children), a work of fiction rarely gets more than one read. Getting a second speaks volumes for the story and/or the skill of the writer.
One book that I recently gave a second read to was Theodore Beale’s Summa Elvetica. (Beale sometimes writes under the pen name Vox Day.) When I saw the title, I immediately thought of Aquinas‘ masterpiece Summa Theologia. When I read the blurb, I saw Beale had been going for that very connection. It’s a good connection, and the book makes good on the promised link without being heavy handed in the debate department.
When I read Summa Elvetica, I had already finished my unpublished novel, yet Beale and I had done something similar. We both had fantasy worlds with a strong Christian church. I don’t see this much in fantasy literature, at least not handled well. Beale did. In Summa Elvetica, alongside the church are elves, dwarves, and other fantasy races. Rome never fell in Summa Elvetica‘s world either (though he calls it Amora). Those two pieces alone guaranteed a first read.
The story is told through the eyes of a man torn between duties. Marcus Valerius feels drawn to the church where he can be an accomplished scholar and researcher. However, he comes from a powerful political family and is expected to serve in the military and run for public office. Marcus is called to see the Sanctif (the Pope of Amora), who has a very special assignment. Marcus will join an envoy to the elven lands with the purpose of determining if elves have souls. If they do, the church will open the borders to missionaries and bring the word of the Immaculate to them. If they do not, the peace treaty will be rescinded and open war will engulf the two realms. Powerful families on both sides maneuver behind the scenes to bring about the desired results.
I thoroughly enjoyed how Marcus’ journey from Amora to the Elven lands paralleled his journey into becoming his own man and making his own choices. Two other members of the envoy are fellow church men on opposite sides of the debate. Marcus will be writing his own opinion for the Sanctif (though the Sanctif will make the final decision on the question of elves and souls).
Summa itself is short. But the book contains two short stories (or novellas, I didn’t count the words) that provide back story to the world of Amora. “Master of the Cat” portrays a turning point in the life of Bessarias (a minor character by how long he is seen but important in what he says and does and especially by what he is) and a past confrontation between good and evil when Bessarias looked not only into his own soul but into the soul of his fellow elves. The other story, “Birth of an Order” tells how the military unit of holy warriors and anti-mages came to be.
However, the story was also very rushed at the end. After the journey through the frontier, the daring escape from assassins, and the times with Bessarias, the pivotal moment in the book is rushed over. The entire question of do elves have souls is decided, but the event that solidifies the decision of the Sanctif has one sentence and it happens off the page. We don’t even get to read it through Marcus’ eyes, and the Sanctif wasn’t there. One of the churchmen writes of it in his own report to the Sanctif, who then says this event was what convinced him. It deserved more time. It deserved a place of prominence in the text itself.
However, I do not recommend this book. The author has made public several statements which are not only unorthodox but heretical.