Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 301 (12/1) -- This Crooked Way by James Enge

Sword and sorcery books rely on journeys for much of their plots -- not quests, precisely (or not too much of the time), but important journeys, for treasure or work, to find something or save someone or get away from somewhere, usually with more than a bit of urgency. The second novel by James Enge about Morlock Ambrosius (master of makers, recovering alcoholic, centuries-old sorcerer, son of Merlin, wanderer through a world with thirty-hour days) is This Crooked Way, and it sees Morlock start off looking just to get away from a place where he's not welcome anymore, but quickly cascades into one-step-forward, two-steps-back journeys to get X in order to get back Y, and so on and on and on. It's nearly a textbook case of S&S-itis, and it's entirely satisfying, all the way through.

This Crooked Way is also an example of that staple of the S&S genre, the fix-up: it's made up of sixteen chapters (four of which are atmospheric "Interludes" and several others of which are episodes rather than full stories), and five of those originally appeared in Black Gate as separate stories. Think of this as Dilvish, the Damned for a new generation -- that's pretty appropriate, actually, since Morlock has a horse with unknown depths, even if he hasn't literally been to Hell...yet.

Morlock starts the novel on the outskirts of the local Empire, where he's persona non grata to the new Emperor -- perhaps because of the events of the first Morlock book, Blood of Ambrose, which I haven't read yet -- with the aim of getting further away. But things keep getting in his way, and the first hundred pages are almost a comedy of errors, as Morlock begins two stories in a row under sudden unexpected attack, and first loses his horse, then his book of palindromes, then other things, while trying to find the last lost thing. It turns out that someone is causing trouble for him, and the rest of This Crooked Way is the complicated story -- through many events that are separate stories in their own ways -- of how Morlock confronts that someone, and what happens then.

This Crooked Way is also, in an unlikely way, a family story: both about Morlock's own centuries-separated family, and about the family that he adopts, in a way (or that adopts him) when they help each other escape one of the many dangers that infest the middle of This Crooked Way. Luckily, Enge doesn't descend to treacle about the importance of family -- and that wouldn't have gone over well, anyway, given the outcome of both of those plots.

This is a fine modern S&S novel, with a cranky and engaging protagonist who never once descends to become a mere hero. A third Morlock novel has already been published -- The Wolf Age -- and I'm happy to have that on my to-be-read pile to look forward to. It's always encouraging to discover a rich vein of the good stuff.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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