Category Archives: James Enge

Morlock in Love

Wrath-Bearing Tree
James Enge
Pyr Books
Trade paperback, 320 pp., $18.00
ebook  $11.99 Kindle Nook

Across the Narrow Sea, in the land of Kaen, something is killing the gods.  In order to determine if this is a potential threat to the Wardlands, the Graith of Guardians sends Morlock Ambrosius and Aloe Oaij to investigate.

Morlock is secretly in love with Aloe.  Aloe isn’t in love with him.  At least not yet.  In his afterward, Enge describes this book as a love story with sword and sorcery interruptions.  To a point, that’s true.  But if you take the sword and sorcery out, the love story is pretty thin.  Magic is so much a part of Morlock that you can’t tell much of a story about him if there’s no magic involved.

This was a strange novel in some ways.  Not the love story portion.  Enge handles that very well, starting with the misunderstandings between Aloe and Morlock to her growing admiration of, and ultimately love for, Morlock.  I realize that last sentence sounds like this is just Jane Austin with fantasy trappings.  In the hands of other, lesser writers, that’s what you would get.  Not so here.

At times Wrath-Bearing Tree is a very weird book.  As Morlock and Aloe visit the cities of Kaen, it’s almost like reading some of the “true accounts” of travelers in the early days of the Age of Exploration.  Strange, bizarre, and completely unlike anything you’re familiar with.  For instance, and this isn’t the weirdest example, there’s a mountain on which the inhabitants either herd goats or sheep, but never both.  The reason is the religious significance of what an individual herds.  Once a year the two religions have a major battle (which of course Morlock and Aloe get caught in), but the goats and sheep used in those battles are anything but cute livestock.  And I’m not even sure how to describe the The Purple Patriarchy.

Because of this, much of the book reminded me of Jack Vance with doses of Clark Ashton Smith here and there.  The unusual societies were one of the highlights of the book for me.  Enge has some fun along the way.  During the Purple Patriarchy chapter, Aloe and Morlock have run afoul of the local traditions and need to escape.  They do so with the aid of a group of adventures trying to put together a quest, D&D style.

Eventually Morlock and Aloe encounter Morlock’s father Merlin.  Morlock has never met his father, so it’s an emotional reunion.  Merlin as Enge depicts him is an interesting character, although not an admirable one.  I would like to have seen more of him.

The main portion of the book, in which Aloe begins to fall in love with Morlock is told entirely from her point of view.  The reader already knows how he feels about her.  It’s interesting to watch her misunderstandings about him change as she gets to know him better.  One word of warning.  The sex scenes are extremely graphic, so if you are offended by that sort of thing or it’s not your cup of tea, you may want to keep that in mind. 

The subtitle of Wrath-Bearing Tree is A Tournament of Shadows, Book 2.  There are some unresolved issues in the larger story arc, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Enge resolves them.  I’d also like to thank Pyr Books for sending me the review copy. 

Enge’s work is unlike anything else out there that I’ve come across.  To some extent, it may be an acquired taste, because he’s not a paint-by-numbers kind of writer.  His work is original, imaginative, and one of a kind.

New Acquisitions

Today a friend and I took my son hiking in Palo Duro Canyon while our wives stayed home doing whatever wives do when husbands are away.  (I don’t want to know; that it involves spending money is enough.)  This will tie into a Dispatches From the Lone Star Front post later in the week after another road trip. 

When I go home, there was a package waiting for me.  It contained a copy of Ari Marmell’s In Thunder Forged from Pyr Books.  Along with Wrath-Breaking Tree (James Enge) and Kindred and Wings (Philippa Ballantine) that came Thursday and Nebula Awards Showcase (Catherine Asaro, ed.), which arrived last week, that’s four from Pyr in about ten days.  The Marmell and Nebula Awards will be reviewed first since the former will be out in a couple of weeks, and the latter is out already.  That’s not to say some of the other review copies Pyr has sent me won’t end up in the queue in the next couple of weeks.

I’ve also got several titles from Angry Robot in my ereader:  The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig (which I’ve already started and am loving), iD by Madelaine Ashbury, and A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp.

Finally, I’m looking forward to diving into No Return by Zachary Jernigan.  He was kind enough to send me a copy of his first novel.  This one got some good advance buzz, and I love the cover.  It’s up Blue Blazes

Anyway, those are the novels from publishers and authors I’ve agreed to read and review.  I still plan to increase the amount of short fiction I review.  (Sooper Seekrit Project #2 requires me to do so.)  I’m also going to stick in some novels just because I want to read them.

Think all that will keep me busy?

And the Winner Is…

This one was tough.  There were some good  excellent entries in my Giveaway Contest for a copy of James Enge’s This Crooked Way.  I understand now why so many people do random selections to determine the winners in these types of things.  Everyone who entered is to be commended  for their imagination.

And the winner is…Charles Gramlich.  I wrestled with this for quite a while, but in the end, Charles won out on the basis of the detail of his entry. Charles please send me an email with a mailing address, and I’ll get the book to you right away.

All of the entries were outstanding, and this was a tough decision for me to make.  Which is as it should be.

Thank you, everyone, who entered.  And again, my apologies for the typo and confusion over the end date, especially to Martin Holm, who missed the deadline because he was traveling.  He knowingly put in a great entry after the contest closed, and I appreciate his taking part.


Well another page on the calendar had turned, and I’m more behind than ever.  Some things never change.  Here’s what I’ve got on the plate for October.  First, sometime tomorrow, I’ll announce the winner of the James Enge book giveaway.  I’ve got a dentist appointment in the morning along with my son, followed by a three hour class, so it might be later in the day before that announcement goes up.

The next novel on the agenda is Steel and Sorrow by Joshua P. Simon.  I’ll probably start it sometime this weekend.  I’ll refrain from saying what novel is after that; I’m going to play it by ear.  I’ve got several I’m going to read this month, but I haven’t decided on the final order.

There are a couple of items that are seasonal in nature that I want to sprinkle in the mix, so I’m not going to lock myself down to any particular sequence.

One thing I am going to read a great deal of over the next few months is short fiction.  In the next week, I want to review the premier issue of Nightmare magazine (I’m about a third of the way through now, and it’s great), the new fiction being posted on Black Gate, the anniversary double sized issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies (it’s not live as of this writing, but I have a subscription and have already downloaded it), plus the inaugural stories in Eclipse Online.  Jonathan Strahan was kind enough to send me advance copies of the first two stories, and I’ll be reading those over the next day or two.  Plus I have a number of anthologies and single author collections sitting on the shelves I’ve been wanting to finish.

That’s plenty to keep me busy.

I Found A Guile of Dragons Most Beguiling

A Guile of Dragons
James Enge
Pyr Books
trade paper, 279 p., $17.95

I apologize for the horrible pun in the title of this post, but some things, well, they just have to be done. 

I  eargerly anticipated this book for most of the summer and was thrilled when the review copy showed up.  (Thanks to the good folks at Pyr.)  The chaos of moving kept me from getting to it as soon as I’d have liked.  But it was worth the wait. 

This is the thinnest of the Morlock books so far, but that doesn’t mean it’s thin on story.  It takes us back to the earliest days of Morlock’s life and then some.  The book opens with Morlock’s mother Nimue betraying his father Merlin to his old enemy Earno.  She’s pregnant with Morlock at the time.

The main part of the action takes place years later, when Morlock, raised by the Dwarves after his parents are exiled, has joined the Graith of Guardians.  He’s a thain, the lowest possible rank. Morlock has a major problem, one he isn’t aware of.  He’s come to the notice of the gods, and they’re messing with him.  In case it isn’t obvious, let me say that this is never a good thing.  Ever.

Morlock finds himself in the middle of a war between the Dwarves and the Dragons, ancient enemies who have fought before.  This is also never a good thing.  Before it’s over, Morlock with have to come to grips with his heritage and the history of his family, both his biological family of Ambrose and his adopted family of Dwarves.  In many ways this is a coming of age story.

The action is good, the dialogue crackles, and Enge doesn’t broadcast where he’s going with the story.  He also shows how certain aspects of Dwarvish culture originated, and he does so in a logical manner.  Enge is a classicist by profession, and it shows in his prose, which I found quite readable and much more enjoyable than the flat prose that packs so many doorstop sized novels.  With his tales of Morlock the Maker, Enge is establishing himself as one of the major writers of the decade.

One thing that I did have trouble with was keeping up with the many members of the supporting cast.  Names aren’t my strong suit, and there’s a lot of them in this book.  Some of them seem to be there not because they’re particularly essential for this story, but they need to be introduced now in order to play role in the larger story arc.  At least that seems to be the case from some foreshadowing in a couple of places. 

The characters are unique individuals, and Enge does a good job getting in their heads.  Almost everyone has motivations that are complex and at times contradictory.  Just like real people.  I found the character of Merlin the most interesting and hope we’ll see more of him in future volumes.  I suspect we will.

The subtitle of this novel is A Tournament of Shadows Book 1, implying there’s much more to this story to come.  For one thing, we know the gods haven’t finished messing with Morlock. 

A Guile of Dragons is a featured book at Adventures Fantastic Books

Giveaway – James Enge’s This Crooked Way

Things appear as though they will settle down in the next day or so, and I can get a report on Fencon and a review posted.  In the meantime, I’ve started reading James Enge’s A Guile of Dragons.  This novel is being promoted as the origin story of Morlock Ambrosius and will be the next novel I review (after the one I need to write).  To tie in with my review, I’ll be giving away a copy of This Crooked Way, one of the earlier volumes in the Morlock series and a good introduction to the character. 

Here’s how things will work.  I thought about doing a simple random drawing from among the entrants, but where’s the fun in that?  Instead, I’m going to select the winner based on creativity.  Paul Cornell has called Enge’s work “Conan as written by Raymond Chandler”.  The giveaway takes off from that.

What fantasy author/famous nonfantasy or literary author mashup would you like to see?  (For this contest, William Shakespeare counts as a fantasy author.)  Specifically, what famous fantasy character would you like to see written by another author?

Got that?  Name a fantasy character you would like to see written by a nonfantasy or famous author and why.  The “why” is essential if you want to win.  I’m judging the entries on originality and creativity.  Your reasoning is where your creativity can really shine.

Place your answer in the comments.  You can enter up to three times, but each character must be entered separately.  Comments containing more than one entry will be disqualified.  Entries will be judged on creativity.  Contest closes at 11:59 p.m., CDT, Sunday, October 30.  Winner will be announced later that week in a blog post and asked to send me a private email with a shipping address.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.  Good luck and have fun!

Update:  More than one person who already has a copy of This Crooked Way has submitted an entry just for fun.  That’s great!  The more, the merrier.  Thanks, guys.

What’s Next

I’ve got almost all of the stuff out of the old house we didn’t have time to pack before we moved.  One more night (~1.5 hrs) should get the rest of it.  Then maybe I can get back to reading, writing, and blogging.  I’ve been reading a novel by Scott Fitzgerald Gray for about a week and a half, which is a long time for this novel.  It’s good, and I’m really enjoying it.  It’s just that I haven’t had much time to read lately, and when I do, my aging body betrays me by going to sleep in spite of my best efforts to finish one more chapter. 

I’m hoping to make it to Fencon this weekend.  It was looking like a done deal, but some things have come up.  I think I’ll still make it.  I really need the break.

Afterwards, I’ve got a novel to read that’s been sitting in the queue for way too long , followed by A Guile of Dragons by James Enge.  This one will have a giveaway associated with it.  After that, although not necessarily this order will be Hard Times in Dragon City by Matt Forbeck, Steel and Sorrow by Joshua P. Simon, and The Black God’s War by Moses Siregar III.  I’ll also be weaving some anthologies and periodicals in the mix as well as a small backlog of titles from Angry Robot that I wasn’t able to read when I intended because of the move. 

All of this is tentative of course, but that’s the general plan.

Long Looks at Short Fiction: "Travelers’ Rest" by James Enge

Traveler’s Rest
James Enge
Pyr Books
free download

The first installment of Long Looks at Short Fiction, back in the early days of this blog, was an examination of “Destroyer” by James Enge.  It’s been in the top ten posts ever since it went live.

When I recently came across this short story on the Pyr website, I knew I had to write an LLaSF column about it.   It’s just taken me a while to get to it.  Pyr has made this story available to celebrate the publication of its 100th title, The Wolf Age by, who else, James Enge. It’s set before the events of Blood of Ambrose and is self contained.  If you’re not familiar with Enge’s alcoholic swordsman/sorcerer Morlock, this story provides a good introduction.

There’s an old saying that something is worth what you pay for it.  In this case, it’s definitely not true.

This isn’t a particularly long piece, only 8500 words, but that’s fine.  It’s still a Morlock tale.  Morlock and his apprentice Wyrth are traveling through a strange land where the livestock grazing in the fields resemble overgrown beetles.  Wyrth thinks something is amiss, but Morlock insists on staying for lunch and at least one night.

It seems Wyrth  is right.  Things are definitely not well in the town.  And the hills are the last place you want to go to get away from the trouble.  It goes back to a bargain made a number of years ago.  Of course the hills are where Morlock heads when he gets enough information to make a decision to get involved.

The plot is straightforward enough that I won’t go into the details.  Suffice to say that Enge writes intelligent fantasy for the thinking person.  In order to find out exactly what’s happening, Morlock has to make a truce with the villain and enter his cave.  The problem now is to defeat the villain without breaking his oath while rescuing the young girl he’s gone to find.

There’s humor here, but also horror and tragedy.  It would have been easy for Enge to dwell on the horrors in the cave.  Instead he shows us enough to let us know just how dangerous Morlock’s opponent is.  There’s enough humor in this portion of the story to leaven the atrocities.  And Enge brushes over how the survivors of the village have to cope with the aftermath, which, although horrific, isn’t as horrific as the situation before Morlock showed up.

Enge is fast becoming one of the best practitioners of sword and sorcery working today.  If you haven’t read him, download this story and see what all the talk is about.

Long Looks at Short Fiction: Destroyer by James Enge

by James Enge
Black Gate 14, 384 pp., $15.95

If you’re a fan of heroic fantasy, adventure fantasy, or just plain good ol’ fashioned storytelling, and you haven’t checked out Black Gate, then you owe it to yourself to do so.  Some of the best writing being done in the fantasy field right now is published here.  While the publication schedule is frustratingly slow, currently at two issues a year, this magazine is still worth waiting for.  John O’Neill brings the highest production and editorial values to his magazine, which is clearly a labor of love.  Since I haven’t seen it on the newsstand in quite a while, your best bet of scoring a copy is directly from the publisher.  All back issues are available in both print and PDF format.  If you’re thinking of subscribing, be sure and check out the special with Rogue Blades Entertainment.  A subscription to a great magazine plus an outstanding anthology is a hard deal to beat.  I’ll be talking about Rogue Blades in a future installment.

Now, lest anyone thinks I’m on the payroll for either Black Gate or Rogue Blades, let’s look at the story in question.  I envision these Long Looks at Short Fiction columns to be just what the name implies, a more detailed look at one or two pieces of short fiction in current publications, both print and electronic.  My definition of short fiction is anything from short story to novella length.

In fact, that’s one of the things I think sets Black Gate apart from the major short fiction periodicals.  They’re willling to publish novellas.  Now I can hear some of you saying, “Wait a minute, West.  Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF all regularly publish novellas”, and indeed they do.  What separates Black Gate from the pro markets is that the Big Three (as well as Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen) aren’t willing to publish novellas from writers who aren’t household names (yet).

A perfect of example of this is James Enge, who published his first Morlock Ambrosious story in BG 8, and has had stories of Morlock in almost every issue since.  Morlock is a hunchbacked wizard with a somewhat bleak outlook and not inconsiderable skill with a sword.  These days, Enge is hardly unknown.  He had two books about Morlock published last year, Blood of Ambrose and This Crooked Way, with a third, The Wolf Age, scheduled for publication sometime this month, meaning copies should be hitting  the shelves any day now.  And to top it off, he has gotten a World Fantasy Award nomination for Blood of Ambrose.  Good luck, James!

Anyway, on to the story.  “Destroyer” finds Morlock in the company of Roble, his sister Naeli, and her children, who were introduced in “The Lawless Hours” in BG 11, but you needn’t have read that one to enjoy this one.  This time the story is (mostly) told from the viewpoint of one of the older kids, Thend.  I say mostly because occasionally the viewpoint seems to shift to Morlock, for example when he’s conversing with a dragon guarding him, Thend, a werewolf, and a disgraced Khroi, a race of insect-like creatures.  The conversation takes place in the dragon language, which Enge tells us Thend does not speak.  Aside from the minor quibble of apparent view-point shift, the story moves briskly.

Now I don’t normally care for action adventure stories told from a child’s point of view because the children tend to be passive rather than active participants.  In this case, Thend (who seems to be in early adolescence, although I don’t recall his age being given) is involved from the beginning.  The story opens with Morlock leading the party between two mountain ranges.  He takes Thend with him to investigate something he’s seen that concerns him.  It turns out to be a Khroi warrior trapped in a web built by the spider people. 

A number of people have been attributed as saying some variation of “If you’re not a liberal at [insert age] you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative at [insert greater age] you have no brain”, and that sentiment applies here to both Thend and Morlock as far as their ages are concerned.  Thend initially condemns Morlock for what he views as a penchant for killing everything and displays pacifist tendencies from time to time.  Morlock, on the other hand, says that his law is blood for blood.  But to apply that quoted adage strictly would be to oversimplify their characters.  Both men display actions that lead from the heart and actions that originated in the head. 

Morlock has no interest in rescuing the Khroi, who is still alive.  Thend cuts him down from the web.  The Khroi marks Thend by wounding him, wounds himself, then escapes.  Morlock informs Thend the Khroi did this so they could identify each other later.  As it turns out later on, this particular Khroi shows Thend an especially harsh form of mercy.

The pace of the story is swift, and the nonhuman characters intriguing as Morlock attempts to guide the party between Khroi and spider people without detection.  You can probably guess how sucessful he is in this.  Hint::  If he were successful, there would be no story.  And don’t assume the ending is an entirely happy one.  The title Enge chose was “Destroyer,” after all.  To find out just who the destroyer turns out to be, well, I’ll never tell.

The real character development in the tale occurs with Thend.  It seems he has a touch of the sight but doesn’t know how to use it when the story opens.  By the conclusion, he’s gained both knowledge and experience, as well as discovering some heroic character traits and an ability to endure hardship, both of which he’s lacking in the opening.  Initially Thend wants to be like his uncle Roble and not be treated like a child by his mother Naeli.  By being forced to work with Morlock, and not just in the opening scene but in an attempt to rescue his family, Thend’s relationships with both his mother and his uncle undergo a transformation as he develops an independent identity as his own man.  The exact nature of that tranformation, I’ll let you see for yourself when you read the story.  It’s worse investing the time.

If it sounds like this is a coming of age story, it is.  Thend grows up through the course of events he has no choice in living through, much like real life.  It’s what we allow our experiences to make us that determine who and what we become.  Without being heavy handed or preaching, Enge shows us this process in a boy who isn’t really all that likable when we first meet him, although he is sympathetic to a point.

Of course, all the usual sardonic wit and cleverness we’ve come to expect from Morlock are on display here.  Morlock has been described as a thinking man’s Conan, a comparison I think short changes the Cimmerian somewhat, but I have to agree with the sentiment.  Morlock uses his brain at least as much as he uses his magic or his sword.  The situation here isn’t one he can simply get out of by either magic or swordsmanship (although both are necessary) because other lives are at stake, and the characters aren’t all at the same location for part of the story. 

If you’re not familiar with Morlock, this is as good a place as any to make his acquaintance.  If you’ve met the man, and haven’t read “Destroyer,” then what are you waiting for?