Summa Elvetica might almost be called historical fantasy. Beale sets his story in an alternate version of republican Rome--or, to be more specific, Rome after the rise of the Catholic Church--and sends his protagonist, Marcus Valerius, on a mission: to Elebrion, by order of the Sanctiff, to determine whether or not elves have souls.
Does an elf have a soul? No, that was taking it too far at the start. In the beginning was God, who made Man in His image. God also made the animals, albeit not in His image. God also made the elves, but were they then more properly akin to Man or to the animals? [Marcus] already inclined toward the former, but upon reflection, there were significant points to be made on either side.
When we first encounter elves--two of them, standing near the Sanctiff himself--their fair appearance and strange tattoos bring to mind Celts and Saxons and other northern peoples conquered by Rome whose tales included accounts of human-like but otherworldly beings. These two elves are also going to accompany Marcus to Elebrion.
I like the idea of dwarves being gladiators. (Very cool--unexpected, and yet totally logical, given the accepted physical characteristics and temperaments of dwarves in literature.) Marcus and his cousin hire an injured gladiator named Lodi to be a bodyguard on the journey.
"You don't think the elves will object?"
"Why, about your dwarf, of course." Zephanus flushed as the sorcerer-elf, seemingly far enough ahead of them in the train to be out of earshot, suddenly turned around and glanced at him. Then the sorcerer shrugged and turned back to his conversation with his elven companion.
"Apparently not,"Marcus said, stifling a smile. Marcipor was riding ahead, engaged in an animated conversation with three of the Michaelines and gesturing in a lordly manner.
"Well, what do you know?" Zephanus said. "Those long ears really do serve a purpose after all!"
"All things serve a purpose, brother," Marcus said. "Our inability to discern that purpose does not indicate its absence, only our shortcomings."
The soldier-priests, Michaelines, are another cool inclusion in the story, and attend the journey as scouts and warriors.
It arrived later than the other manuscripts, so I was unable to finish reading Summa Elvetica before this month's blog tour began, but I fully intend finishing it and then checking out more of Beale's work. A list of his novels, short stories, and other writing can be found here.
Check out the opening chapter of Summa Elvetica here, or the awesome cover art here. (It's hard for me to decide which of MLP's initial three books has the best cover art; it's all different, and it's all excellent. And who's to say I have to pick a favorite? I'm an equal-opportunity admirer.)
I've enjoyed my glimpse of what's to come from Marcher Lord Press, and believe Jeff Gerke has years of success ahead of him as he continues to provide a conduit for excellent fiction for an eager and intelligent audience.
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Kameron M. Franklin
Todd Michael Greene
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Mirtika or Mir's Here