Monday, August 02, 2010

This Crooked Way

I had the most fun with James Enge's 'This Crooked Way' that I've had with any fantasy book in the last year or so. His grumpy and not always admirable 'hero' Morlock Ambrosius is an engaging character and Enge puts him through all kinds of interesting adventures. The episodic novel was made up partially from existing Morlock short stories, welded together with a linking plotline. I've no problem with someone 'cannibalizing' earlier short work for a novel. Raymond Chandler did it all the time in his Phillip Marlowe novels.
What I found interesting about the way Enge builds this book is that not only are there multiple viewpoint characters, but multiple points of view. In the first couple of chapters we see everything through Morlock's eyes in third person. But then a supporting character takes over and narrates in first person for a while and when we return to third person, it's yet another character who is now viewing Morlock from the outside. This sounds confusing but what it serves to do is give the reader a deeper view of the protagonist. We see him as he sees himself and as others see him. It's also a good chance to see what a solid writer Enge is. He makes all of it look easy.
The plots of most of the short stories are gimmicky in the good way that a Gardner Fox story was gimmicky as the various wizards, necromancers, gnomes, and such all try to get the upper hand through magic, only to find that their opponents are often two or three moves ahead. In Enge's stories, nothing is what it seems and every character is suspect, especially Morlock.
The magic seems magical and yet rational at the same time. Not one of these 'rigorously developed magic systems' that so many writers and fans seem so fond of, but something more along the lines of Jack Vance. The mages have to work to make things work and you get to see all the gears and wheels turning.
There's action aplenty. Battles with monsters and dragons and insectoid warriors. Enge seems endlessly inventive, throwing in all sorts of creatures you've never thought of and doing new and fun things with old standbys like dwarves and gnomes.
Best of all, the book runs the gamut from horror to humor to pathos. I found myself chuckling at Morlock, only to get hit with a heart breaking bit of tragedy two pages later. Enge has that kind of versatility.
Kind of a funny thing is that most of the Morlock stories appeared in Black Gate Magazine or at the Flashing Swords Ezine, both of which I've done some work for as well. That has absolutely no bearing on anything but it's an odd coincidence, considering how much I liked this book. Oh and there's another Morlock story in the anthology Swords and Dark Magic, which I reviewed a few posts ago.
Anyway, I really liked 'This Crooked Way' and highly recommend it. Fortunately for me there's an earlier Morlock volume, 'Blood of Ambrose' I can read, and yet another, 'The Wolf Age' on the way in October. Life is good.

For more on Enge and Morlock, go to Enge's webpage here:

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