This Crooked Way   1 comment

It's colorful but doesn't say much about the contents.

After reading Blood of Ambrose, I was hot to read more  of James Enge’s fiction about Merlin and his children in the strange world of Laente.  I obtained both books at the same time, and dived right into the second one after finishing the first.

James Enge has apparently been writing his Ambrosian tales for some time.  Although THIS CROOKED WAY is the second book in his fantasy series, it shows a lot of internal evidence to suggest that much of the material in it was written earlier than the first book about Lathmar VII.  It consists of several novelets loosely linked to make a novel–it is a risky technique for novel creation.  The author doesn’t really build to a single climax–each tale comes to a climax and then it’s back to the beginning.  Four of the novelets–the entire center of the book–are told in first person narrative by four members of a family that he encounters.  Each person, Roble, Naeli, Fasra, and Stend see Morlock Ambrosius somewhat differently.  They all seem to be looking back on their adventures with Morlock as something that happened many years earlier, but no real context of time is given for their tale-telling.  In addition, a couple of stories are narrated by a Khroi nurse to her nurseling.  Why the insectoid Khroi would have any interest in the doings of a human wizard is never really explained.  Morlock does impact the Khroi’s history,  but not, in my opinion, enough to justify their superstitious awe of him.

In short, the book does not hang together nearly as well as the first book.  Taken as individual short novelets, the tales are good swords and sorcery.  Taken as a novel, it’s all kind of weak.  I believe James Enge noticed this himself, but probably had no better option for producing a sequel to his excellent BLOOD OF AMBROSE in a timely fashion.  He has an afterword that attempts to justify the existence of the stories in the real world, and to reconcile the differing points of view.  It’s a very nifty piece of apologetics, but . . .

On the other hand, Enge does give us a much better feel for his fantasy land.  We get to talk with werewolves and dragons, fight snake-leopards and a truly conceited Gnome.  The sense of fantastic invention is at a much higher level than in BLOOD OF AMBROSE.  Something new and marvelous is created in each story–you have to love it when a writer does that for you.

And, a coherent theory of magic begins to emerge from the fiction.  In Morlock’s world, there is something called tal. Tal is the intermediary between matter and spirit.  Spirit is helpless without matter, and matter is inert without spirit, and tal holds them both together.  Wizards can separate their tal from their body, sometimes they can control the tal of other beings.  It’s all kind of fuzzy, but the more control one has over tal, then the more magical things one can do.  Nobody does flash-bang magic in Morlock’s world–no fireballs or lightning bolts. It’s all curses and healing and spirit mastery. Spirit forms can range into the future and the past.  Golems can be animated.  There are all sorts of things that can be done with the proper manipulation of tal.  And then there is the mystical element of phlogiston, and aetherium, two elements of reality with what seem like magical properties.  Both Morlock and Merlin are masters of such knowledge.  It’s fun to see how Enge, with his college professor’s intellect, manipulates these elements in telling his tales of swords and sorcery.

Final Evaluation: THIS CROOKED WAY  isn’t quite as good a book as BLOOD OF AMBROSE, but it has a lot of innovation, intelligence, and adventure in it, along with a wry humor seldom seen in tales of heroic fantasy.  Read it! You will probably like it.


Posted October 12, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

One response to “This Crooked Way

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  1. The Wolf Age, out later this month, returns to a more traditional novel structure.

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