Theodore Beale File:
Reviewed by Eric Wilson
Summa Elvetica : A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy
by Theodore Beale
"Beale has added something fresh to speculative fiction, something not only deep in its musings but page-turning in its telling."
With the recent launch of upstart publisher Marcher Lord Press, I couldn't wait to get my hands on one of their speculative fiction titles. All three of their debut books looked intriguing, but I'd read a novel years ago by Theodore Beale, and so I chose his newest, "Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy." With a title like that, I just had to know more. The ordering process went smoothly, the book arrived earlier than expected, and the cover and layout looked fantastic. Thankfully, the story lived up to the packaging and hype.
A young man, Marcus Valerius, finds himself on the unlikely mission of traveling to the elvish lands of Elebrion to determine if the elves have souls. He has been sent off by the ruling religious class, and he's accompanied by mysterious men of the cloth, as well as warriors, an elf, and a dwarf. Not all have his best intentions in mind, and the treachery will soon reveal itself.
Along the way, there is much discussion about the possible military conflict with the elvish king, should it be decided that elves are simply a higher form of animal without a soul. This debate turns lively at points and is bolstered by its parallels to actual church history, as well as by its connections to current theological issues and even the question of whether fiction with a biblical worldview has a place on the shelves of fantasy readers.
All that said, I was waiting for a bit more action to speed things along. At the point I thought the book would be a long dialogue on said subject, it picked up the pace and raced toward a great conclusion. Any reader who skips over the "Appendix Aelvi" in the last third of the book is missing on some more great stories. In "Master of Cats," we find out more of Bessarias' time among the elves, including a cataclysmic confrontation between good and evil. We also read more of the intrigues and battles centered around Quintus Tullius, in "Birth of an Order."
Beale has added something fresh to speculative fiction, something not only deep in its musings but page-turning in its telling. Despite a few typos in the text, the book is beautifully laid-out and nicely edited for story content. Marcher Lord Press has taken a huge step toward establishing itself as a publisher to watch for years to come, and their website includes great teasers for other titles. I, for one, am looking forward to much more.
Eric Wilson is the author of twelve novels that explore Earth's tension between heaven and hell, the latest of which is One Step Away, a twist on the story of Job. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two daughters. Visit him online at his website.