After plying his writing trade at short stories about Morlock Ambrosius, James Enge pushes the boundaries of story length and gives a novel-length adventure in Blood of Ambrose. Morlock is something of an enigma – he is a great swordsman, one of the greatest makers (magicians) to ever live, and a direct descendant of Merlin Ambrosius and Nimue (a name given to the Lady of the Lake). Clearly, the Arthurian link is established early. However, as the novel unfolds, the world evoked more of a Fritz Leiber/Lankhmar feel to it, or even speaking in a more modern sense, a Scott Lynch feel.
The plot of the novel concerns a Morlock’s sister Ambrosia Viviana, being accused as a witch. This poses a problem since Ambrosia is one of the only barriers preventing the regent, Lord Urdhven from taking full advantage of the rightful king, Lathmar IV who is too young to take the throne himself. You see, years prior to the beginning of this novel Urdhven murdered Lathmar’s father and began usurping the power inherit in the throne himself.
Initially, I was a bit put off by the flow of the story. It wasn’t immediately clear just how young a boy Lathmar is. Through his interaction with both Urdhven and Ambrosia it become apparent how young the King is. As the King and Ambrosia escape, they call upon Morlock to defend Ambrosia’s honor in a trial by combat against the legendary Red Knight. These scenes firmly entrenched the story darkness of Enge’s world. It also was the first hint of the humor evident in Enge’s writing – upon defeating the Red Knight, Morlock is found to be simply asleep.
The other somewhat off-putting element of this novel was that I expected Morlock to be more front-and-center character throughout the story. It takes him a while to show up for that aforementioned trial by combat and even after that, he takes more of an advisor role to the young King than as the central figure of the story. In a way, that does work in the favor of the novel. Primarily because Morlock is spoken of as such a legendary character by the outlying characters – Morlock is the Crooked Man, a man always in shadows, almost an urban legend. So in this sense, Enge introduces the character through hearsay and sort of deconstructs the legend as Morlock comes more front-and-center into the novel.
Enge doesn’t shy away from much in the novel – zombies are an integral element, as is a talking dead baby reanimated through necromancy. Blood of Ambrose is a modern sword and sorcery tale with scenes of battle, pursuit, and thaumaturgy. On the whole; however, the novel was somewhat uneven for my tastes. The characters, particularly Morlock himself, didn’t come into the spotlight as much as I hoped or expected. Enge does seem to hold most of his humor for supporting character Wyrth, a side-kick of sorts to Morlock. Think a variation of Elric’s Moonglum.
In conclusion, Blood of Ambrose was a book I wanted to enjoy a great deal, from the evocative cover to the implied sword and sorcery elements. Though the world in which the story takes place isn’t fully detailed, I liked how Enge favored hinting at elements like the magic and Gods of the world rather than describe in detail the spells and characteristics of each specific God. Unfortunately, the novel didn’t live up to my expectations as highly as I hoped, but still had enjoyable elements and flashes of coolness.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford