A Guile of Dragons (A Tournament of Shadows #1)
A Guile of Dragons by James Enge features the return of Morlock Ambrosius though not in quite the same way as the previous novel, The Wolf Age. I rather loved the The Wolf Age with the fantastic character of Morlock and an original and fascinating setting it was a high water mark for the first three Morlock novels. A Guile of Dragons takes things back to the start detailing the birth and rise of Morlock Ambrosius and marks the beginning of a new serious of Morlock novels.
Of course, given that I really enjoyed Blood of Ambrose and The Wolf Age going backwards in time for A Guile of Dragons offers a tricky proposition. It is definitely difficult to filter my disappointment that we won’t be seeing another “present day” adventure with Morlock out of my actual reaction to A Guile of Dragons. Rest assured this novel is textbook Enge with crisp prose and a fascinating world leavened by frequent humor and high action. Whereas the previous Morlock novels delivered readers a man already set in his ways A Guile of Dragons seems to set in motion of more in depth study of how the youth we meet becomes the man seen in those earlier novels.
The opening of the novel provides readers with a glimpse at the birth of Morlock and actually gives readers a better understanding of his father, Merlin. Absent in the previous series seeing Merlin here completely divorced of Morlock’s opinion of his father, paints the famous magician in a new light while the circumstances of Morlock’s birth offer new insight into the role he plays in A Guile of Dragons as well as The Wolf Age. As in The Wolf Age, A Guile of Dragons also exhibits the casual manipulation of the mortal world via divine hands and as in the previous novel Enge uses these characters in a way similar to a Greek chorus.
As he did with the werewolves of his previous novel Enge takes a fantasy staple and manages to give it a unique and fascinating twist. While the dwarves seen in A Guile of Dragons definitely resemble your typical fantasy dwarves Enge plays upon reader expectations as the novel delves into the history of this race offering up some fascinating and surprising morsels as novel moves forward towards its conclusion. Of course at the center of this all is Morlock himself and Enge shows a deft hand at differentiating this younger Morlock from the Morlock of the previous novels. This is a Morlock whose outsider nature, even among his adopted family, has still left him raw around the edges. A Morlock who hates his birth father deeply and a Morlock desperate to prove himself to the world. Having read the previous novels you can see the skeleton of the man he would become and his portrayal in A Guile of Dragons as someone who even at a young age carried a rather hefty emotional burden.
While A Guile of Dragons offers a self-contained story it definitely feels like it is building to a more unified and connected story than the previous novels (which were very episodic). A Guile of Dragons further fleshes out the world of Morlock while leaving ample room to build even further detail. A Guile of Dragons also seems to tone back some of the more magical elements seen in the previous novels. While magic is definitely alive and present in the novel it is a far subtler affair and completely absent are airships or giant mechanical spiders. Enge definitely seems to going for a slower burn with A Guile of Dragons but that isn’t to say there isn’t action. Enge offers up threats, mysteries, and battles aplenty to keep the pace flowing and there were definite moments where I didn’t want to stop turning the pages. I’ll definitely be looking for more of Morlock Ambrosius.