I wasn’t the biggest fan of James Enge’s first novel-length offering (Blood of Ambrose; review here). A few particularly nasty flaws made impossible for me to make it an affirmative recommendation. But thankfully, the changes he worked with his second novel, This Crooked Way, made it a much stronger and more fun (to keep to simple terms) read. Opting this time to recount the adventures of Morlock Ambrosius in an episodic-novel format, Enge gives readers an exciting, mystifying sword and sorcery read much more like Blood of Ambrose should have been.
Traveling alone in the depths of winter, Morlock Ambrosius (bitterly drunk, master of all magical makers, wandering swordsman, and son of Merlin Ambrosius and Nimue Viviana) is attacked by an unknown enemy.
To unmask his enemy and end the attacks he must travel a long crooked way through the world: past the soul-eating Boneless One, past a subtle and treacherous master of golems, pat the dragon-taming Khroi, past the predatory cities of Sarkunden and Aflraun, past the demons and dark gnomes of the northern woods.
Soon he will find that his enemy wears a familiar face, and that the duel he has stumbled into will threaten more lives than his own, leaving nations shattered in its chaotic wake.
And at the end of his long waits the death of a legend.
Like I said above, there was something about Blood of Ambrose that just wasn’t quite right. I commented in my review of it that it already had a bit of a jumpy nature but it was not quite episodic. This Crooked Way, though, doesn’t even try to hide behind the illusion of being a standard novel, its chapters reading instead like individual short stories. Yes, the book does have an overall story (certainly a bit weak, but we’ll come to that) but it reads a whole lot more like a short story anthology - albeit a very focused anthology - than a novel.
And this is no bad thing. It livens up the novel every time you enter a new chapter. Enge even varies up the narrator and the point-of-view, to tell the story from different perspective. Some of these POVs were better than others, granted, but overall it gave the book a fresher feel in its middle section - at time when that sort of feeling is often much needed. In fact, some these chapters were previously published as short stories of their own. I don’t know how linked they were intended to be originally, but they certainly turn out to be telling a coherent, if a bit stretched out and somewhat gappy, story.
One of the other gripes I had with Blood of Ambrose, the uncertainty of who the main character is, thankfully gets fixed in This Crooked Way. Here Morlock Ambrosius is without a doubt the star of the show, but more importantly, he is the one the story centers around. Even when the story has a first person narrator other than Morlock he steals the show. That’s not to say that the other characters are of no interest, certainly not, but after all, this series is supposed to depict the adventures of The Crooked Man.
Enge’s prose in his second novel is just as solid as in the first, I even found it more enjoyable. Perhaps this arises from my familiarity with some of the quirks of his writing style - I was expecting, for example, to encounter his very characteristic use of parentheses in his descriptive and narrative prose. Or maybe Enge’s writing has improved from what was already something very commendable to something even better, it’s hard to say.
So for those of you who read and at least mildly enjoyed Blood of Ambrose than crossing over to This Crooked Way is a logical step as it’s even better. For those that haven’t yet given James Enge a try, I recommend getting your hands on some of his short work, notably his entry in Swords & Dark Magic, ‘The Singing Spear’ (the only short of his I’ve read) as a tester. Then, those willing, should certainly give Blood of Ambrose a go. This Crooked Man is followed by the already published The Wolf Age, which I am looking forward to. Amongst other things is promises more werewolves!
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
James Enge's Website: http://www.jamesenge.com/
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