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.