Wednesday, 3 October 2012

‘A Guile of Dragons’ – James Enge (Pyr)

Have you ever come across a book where you know it’s your thing, it’s almost like it has been written just for you, but you can’t get into it. It’s the most infuriating thing when that happens to you and it happens to me all the time with James Enge’s ‘Morlock’ books.
Here’s a series that should be right up my street; an interesting anti-hero making his way across a world that is crying out to be explored by the likes of me. What I found though… Well, you already know what I thought of ‘Blood of Ambrose’ (review Here if you haven’t already read it) and I only got halfway through ‘This Crooked Way’ before putting down, for a quick break, and never finding my way back to it. I haven’t opened ‘The Wolf Age’ at all.

It’s a world that keeps calling to me though so when I heard of ‘A Guile of Dragons’ I knew I’d have to take a look. ‘A Guile of Dragons’ particularly appealed to me with its promise of taking things right back to the start of Morlock’s life and giving us hints at how he ended up the way he did. Maybe it was the sense of jumping on halfway through a story that threw me so badly…

‘A Guile of Dragons’ ended up being a holiday read, last week, and it wasn’t a bad one either. I didn’t find the book to be as good as it wanted to be but there was still plenty to enjoy and I might even be persuaded to give ‘This Crooked Way’ and ‘The Wolf Age’ a go after all.

The dragons have returned from out of the North and and their Longest War, with the dwarves, is set to begin all over again. If that wasn’t bad enough, they are backed by a long dead king and the masked goes of Fate and Chaos.
The dwarves are cut off from any aid and are slowly being whittled away as prisoners are taken and the defenders corrupted by dragonspells. The weight of guarding the North hold, and ultimately the lands of the south, rests on the crooked shoulders of a traitors son…
Even at a relatively young age, Morlock Ambrosius has had a tough life but he has always tried to do the right thing by his homeland and adopted people. What he is about to find out though will force him to make some tough decisions. Regin and Fafnir were brothers and the Longest War can never be over…

As I’ve already mentioned, ‘A Guile of Dragons’ takes things right back to the very beginning of Morlock’s life (a little bit before that even) and delivers on its promise to fill in those blank spaces. Only up to a point however. The book itself is only the opening chapter in a mini-series (a trilogy?), ‘A Tournament of Shadows’ so don’t expect too many answers. In fact, if you go into this expecting a few more questions to be raised then you won’t be disappointed. I wanted to find out a lot more about Merlin and Nimue Viviana and what led them to treat Morlock the way they do in ‘This Crooked Way’. No such luck, I think I’ll be waiting for at least two more books before those answers become clear.
Realistic expectations are the order of the day here then. ‘A Guile of Dragons’ isn’t going to give you all the answers so don’t expect it to. What it will give you though is a story that you can’t help but want to read; even though, at times, it will seem exactly the opposite.

I found ‘A Guile of Dragons’ to be a little more balanced than ‘Blood of Ambrose’ in terms of world building and plot versus character development. A lot happens here and you come away this time with more of a feel for where it’s all taking place. I liked that, this approach certainly made the book feel a little more fleshed out than its predecessor did. And as far as Morlock taking on dragons goes, wow! Enge doesn’t hold back on the pyrotechnics and the thrill of chases through mountain passes and forests. Morlock even kills a dragon and it’s interesting to see how Enge uses this to show how legends can spring from a complete misunderstanding. This certainly casts future events in a whole new light. His confrontation with the dead king of Cor also makes for some gripping reading.

What I found frustrating though was how things seemed to get bogged down by a main character whose pysche is so damaged (and moulded by his time with the taciturn dwarves) that he is incapable of relating to others. There is only so many times that you can be shown this before you find yourself thinking that you know all there is to know, at the moment, and you just want the story to get going. It doesn’t though because the story is all about Morlock, the plot gets trapped by a character who you can’t really get a feel for as he is so protective of his inner self. You could say that Enge wrote the character a little too well here… And given how easily Morlock resolves his feelings, literally in one paragraph at the end of the book, I did feel a little cheated by what I had to go through to get there.
Couple this with the dwarves tentatively getting to know Earno (a Guardian of the South lands) and there were large chunks of the book where I was just waiting for something to happen. It really felt like things were crawling along during these moments.

A tough one to call then. ‘A Guile of Dragons’ has certainly got me interested in the next instalment but, yet again, I’ll be approaching it with some caution and hopes that the story will be allowed to come out from under the shadow of Morlock himself.

Eight out of Ten

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