Monday, August 30, 2010

More Sherlock to Come

Watched the third and unfortunately final (for the season) episode of Sherlock last night. This one has the big reveal of Moriarity and boy it was a corker. Slap together chunks from Doyle's The Bruce Partington Plans and The Final Problem and overlay that with some truly diabolical plots from the world's only 'consulting criminal' Jim Moriarity (People wired with explosives and forced to read text messages over the phone to Sherlock) and you get a slam bang conclusion to the first series of Sherlock Holmes adventures in the here and now. Writer Mark Gaddis really pulled out all the stops for this one, jamming enough plot twists for any three episodes into one.
The good news is, the producers have confirmed that the series will be back for a second season. The slightly bad news is that they're not sure exactly when, given Steven Moffat's busy schedule. But anyway, Holmes and Watson will be back, and that's a good thing.

Bearers of the Black Staff


Terry Brooks hits the ground running in his latest Shannara novel, Bearers of the Black Staff. The book opens with Sider Ament, the last remaining Knight of the Word and one of the titular bearers of the staff, tracking two dangerous creatures that have entered the valley he protects. The twist is, nothing has been able to enter or leave that valley for the last 500 years. Sealed off by a magical barrier at the end of 2009's The Gypsy Morph, the valley contains a group of survivors from our own world who fled there to escape the oncoming holocaust that destroyed the world as we know it. Now the barrier is down and a new world filled with new dangers threatens the descendants of the elves, men, and mutants who call the valley home.
Bearers is the first of a duology, The Legends of Shannara, giving more background on how Brooks' signature fantasy world came to be. Though I haven't read all the 'classic' Shannara novels, apparently there were always hints that the Tolkien-esque Shannara world was our own world in the distant future. Brooks is in the process of explaining how that occurred as he links his Knight of the Word books (which take place in contemporary times) with the Shannara books. After nuclear wars and demon attacks and other catastrophes, a new world emerges where magic has returned.
I wasn't surprised that the mutants called lizards in the Genesis of Shannara trilogy are now known as trolls in the world outside the valley. I expect a similar revelation about the mutants called spiders soon. A dragon appears early in the book and there is speculation as to whether it is a mutation or a magical creature somehow returned.
Aside from Sider Ament, the two main protagonists of Bearers are Pantera Qu and Prue Liss, two teenage trackers with abilities beyond those of their fellow mortals. Pan and Prue are also tracking the creatures from outside when Sider stumbles upon them just in time to save them from a messy death. One of the creatures escapes and Sider decides he must track it and kill it lest it bring more of its kind into the now unprotected valley. He sends Prue and Pan off to one of the main human settlements in the valley to warn the valley's inhabitants that the barrier is down.
This sets up Brooks' favorite plot device, that of switching back and forth from two quests. Just when Prue and Pan are captured by trolls we switch to Sider and when Sider is knocked out by the wounded beast he is tracking it's back to Pan and Prue. A spoiled and willful Elf princess will become a viewpoint character a bit later on. Brooks is an old pro and he leaps from character to character, making it seem easy. My only problem with this approach is, there's always a character I don't care much about, the princess in this case, and I get bored during the passages where she's on stage.
I mentioned in my reviews of the three Genesis of Shannara books that those books held my attention because of the 'John Carter effect' where contemporary humans met elves and demons and such. Since Bearers takes place five centuries after the last of the Genesis trilogy, there isn't much of that. We've moved into a pseudo medieval world familiar to readers of Brooks' later Shannara novels and while there are one or two references to modern technology, those are fading fast. Thus, as suspected, I wasn't nearly as taken with Bearers of the Black Staff as I had been with the preceding trilogy. I found myself getting restless at the last third of Bearers as I realized that the book would have to end on numerous cliffhangers leading into the second part. Brooks didn't do this much in his early novels. Most of the early ones had beginnings middles and ends even if they linked to the next novel. Now he's writing true trilogies or in this case a duology.
Anyway, I did enjoy Bearers of the Black Staff quite a bit. There's plenty of action and chases and battles and rescues and all that stuff. In his non fiction book Sometimes the Magic Works Brooks says that he doesn't think of himself as a fantasy writer as much as a writer of adventure stories. His latest book bears that out. Reportedly, after next years conclusion to Legends of Shannara, Brooks is going back the time period after his last 'classic' Shannara books. Don't know if that means the events of the second novel in the duology will leave us set up for First King of Shannara, the book that takes place in the earliest recorded time of the classic books, or if there will be still more to tell of the origins of the world of Shannara. Guess we'll see.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Waiting for Fall

It looks as if we're done with summer here in the sunny South. Oh there will be days when the temperature approaches 90 degrees still, but the oppressive heat we've seen for the last couple of months finally seems to have broken. I've just returned from sitting outside at a local Starbucks for an hour or so where I was drinking coffee and ready Terry Brooks' Bearers of the Black Staff. Almost done and very pleased with the book. I have all the windows open and both ceiling fans going, airing the apartment out. Bruce is on the window sill and Amelia is prowling the living room.
It isn't cool enough for my usual autumn restlessness to set in, but I expect it any day. I can't explain what brings it on exactly. A change in the quality of sunlight and something ineffable in the air. I'll know it when it comes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kellory the Warlock

I mentioned in my post about John Jakes' story, Devils in the Walls, that I had also planned to review Lin Carter's short story, Vault of Silence, from the same anthology, Swords Against Tomorrow, but things got complicated. See when I read Vault of Silence, I thought it sounded less like a short story than a chapter in a longer tale. Oh it had a beginning, middle and end, but it didn't seem quite complete. I went to my bookshelf and pulled down Carter's novel Kellory the Warlock, (Kellory being the hero of Vault) and sure enough, Vault of Silence, renamed Valley of Silence, was a chapter in the episodic novel. Apparently every chapter was written as a short, but only Vault was actually published prior to the release of the novel in 1984. Why? Nobody knows. Carter friend and sometimes biographer Robert M. Price states in his book, Lin Carter: A Look behind His Imaginary Worlds that he's not absolutely sure that Carter wrote all the Kellory stories at once in the early 1970s but it looks likely. So once I realized that Vault was part of a much longer story, I decided to read all of Kellory and review that instead of just the short story.
Kellory is sort of an interesting case for Lin Carter because the character doesn't seem to be based on anyone else's character specifically. I'm a huge fan of Carter, but even I have to admit that most of Lin's published work falls into the category of pastiche. His Jandar of Callisto books are based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars. His Zarkon books are based on Doc Savage. His Eric of Zanthodon is based on ERB's Pellucidar novels. His burly barbarian Thongor is a Conan knock-off with some Barsoom thrown in. However, the thing I usually point out about Lin is that he wasn't attempting to fool anyone into thinking these were original ideas of his own. He wanted to write books that mimicked his writer heroes, at least early in his career.
Later he tried to go more in his own direction, with mixed results. His humorous fantasy novels (Kesrick,Mandricardo, etc) are more clearly his own, but I don't find them as enjoyable as his REH and ERB pastiches.
Kellory the Warlock, though, seems to be mostly an original character. I've heard people say he was Lin's take on Michael Moorcock's Elric, but I don't really see it. The only thing he seems to have in common with old red eyes is that both characters are depressed a lot. Not that the character himself is terribly original. His origin, last survivor of a tribe destroyed by evil horde, is pretty standard fantasy stuff. I just mean that Kellory doesn't seem to be a knock off of any specific character. The one thing that makes Kellory sort of interesting as a sword & sorcery hero is that this time the hero has the sorcery and the bad guys the swords. Otherwise he has the same sort of adventures as Thongor, Brak and the lot.
Anyway, the book begins with young Kellory in the mountains seeking the castle of the Green Enchanter, the most powerful mage in the known world. Kellory's tribe was killed by the Thungoda horde and Kellory was left alive, though maimed, to tell the tale. The Thungoda barbarians held Kellory's hand in the same fire where his father was being burned alive so that Kellory could never raise a sword against the horde. But Kellory is still bent on revenge and he seeks out the Enchanter, hoping to become his apprentice so that he may use magic as a weapon.
This chapter contains some of Lin's better writing. His descriptions of the Enchanter's castle, which rests within a field of protective sorcery inside an active volcano, are well done. You can feel the heat of the lava and smell the sulfur. Lin could turn a nice phrase when he worked at it.
Chapter two is the aforementioned Vault of Silence, picking up several years later when Kellory rescues a captive girl from a group of Thungoda. He has acquired a black staff through which he can focus his magical power and blast things. The staff is a handy device, because it can be taken from the protagonist, thus reducing his power. The problem with wizard characters is their powers have to be defined and controlled or they become too powerful and there's no suspense because the mage has a spell to get him out of anything. Of course he can call the staff to him, sort of like Thor does with his hammer, but there are ways to keep him from doing that at important moments.
In this chapter we learn that Kellory is seeking an ancient tome, The Book of Shadows, because it could contain a spell which will allow him to wipe out the entire Thungoda horde. He hopes to find the book in the tower of its centuries dead original owner, but that doesn't pan out.
In chapter three, Kellory and his companion end up captured by desert tribesman. They eventually win the tribesmen over and the group enters a lost city where a supernatural menace lurks. The tribesmen are hoping for treasure and Kellory hopes the Book of Shadows is in the city. This is the chapter where Carter's world building falls apart a bit, because presumably Kellory's adventures take place on a world in another star system. But the desert is full of scorpions and vipers and lizards and other decidedly earth like life forms. There are some monsters and things too, but for all intents and purposes Kellory's world is no different from those of any of the other sword & sorcery series set in earth's lost past. Parallel evolution, perhaps, but it seems kind of pointless to say something takes place on another world and then just reproduce Earth.
As you can see, the chapters are still following the pattern of Vault of Silence. Each is a complete short story but one leads into the next. I'll lay off the chapter by chapter breakdown here in case anyone wants to read the book. It is fast paced and a lot of fun and it has some good fantasy ideas in it. I think that perhaps if Carter had concentrated on Kellory and a few more original ideas he would be better respected today as a writer. Most of his pulpish books are certainly no worse than dozens of others that were being published by DAW in the 1970s-80s, but their status as obvious pastiches hasn't done Carter's rep any good. If he has a legacy it will probably be as an editor rather than a writer and that's a shame in some ways because he wrote some entertaining books and short stories.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Devils in the Walls

Fans of sword & sorcery in particular and fantasy in general owe Cele Goldsmith a big debt. She assumed editorship of the magazine Fantastic in 1958 and reportedly was instrumental in getting Fritz Leiber back to writing Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. According to Michael Moorcock she encouraged him as well. Another young writer who did some work for Goldsmith was John Jakes. Jakes is now a well known author of historical fiction, but in the late 1950s Goldsmith reportedly asked Jakes to "Write me some Conan stories," resulting in the creation of Jakes' blond Conan stand-in, Brak the Barbarian.
I read the Brak story 'Devils in the Walls' over the weekend in the 1970 anthology Swords Against Tomorrow. This was a changed and expanded version of the original, which appeared in the May 1963 issue of Fantastic. Devils in the Walls begins with Brak on the slave block. The burly barbarian had been caught off guard while recovering from a bout of sickness and captured by a group of slavers. Brak is purchased by a noblewoman who wants him to secure a treasure for her from a demon haunted ruin.
This is a fast moving little S&S story and Brak is menaced by not only the titular devils, but by half a dozen zombie leopards. Yes, undead leopards. You don't see that every day. There's a good deal of sword swinging action, but Brak ultimately has to uses his brains more than his brawn to beat the devils in the walls, showing that like his Cimmerian prototype, Brak isn't just a dumb slab of muscle.
The one problem I had with the story was a scene where the noblewoman had freed Brak from his chains and given him a sword. He asks her why he can't simply walk out now that he's free and armed, rather than doing her bidding. She tells him that she has four armed men in the next room. Yeah, that would slow Conan down. However we need for Brak to go along with the woman in order to keep the story going and he did kind of give his word that he would do what she wanted, so it isn't that big a thing.
I've read most of the Brak short stories and novels over the years and though somewhat uneven in quality, they're enjoyable for the most part. The 1980 collection Fortunes of Brak is probably the best of the lot if you want to give Brak a try. About a decade ago I interviewed John Jakes and talked to him a bit about Brak. To his credit he's proud of his days as a pulp fantasy writer, though he has little interest in the genre now.
The other story I read this weekend in Swords Against Tomorrow was Lin Carter's Vault of Silence. I had planned to review that one as well, but it got a bit complicated. More on that later.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Crossover


Kharrn and Amy disagree on which way to go while the Doctor ignores them.

Sherlock Holmes and Me


If you only know me through reading this blog, then you may be surprised to find that about a decade ago I was just as obsessed with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes as I currently am with Conan and sword & sorcery. No, I was MORE obsessed with Holmes. That's why my ringing endorsement of the current BBC Sherlock TV series in the post below carries a good bit of weight. Where Holmes is involved I am a tough audience.
My obsession with Holmes started with a chance viewing of one episode of the Granada television series starring Jeremy Brett as the great detective on PBS's Mystery! The episode was The Problem of Thor Bridge and it really was a fluke that I saw it, having no real interest in Holmes at the time. I think I was flipping channels and happened on it just as it started.
Anyway, there was a line in the show, where Holmes, upon seeing a photograph of a remote plateau in South America, notes that there might be great beasts from another age still roaming such an out of the way place. This was, of course, a reference to Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World, and I wondered if this was a line from Doyle or something the TV writers had added as an in-joke. I didn't own any of the Holmes books so I went to the library and picked up the complete Sherlock Holmes. I looked up The Problem of Thor Bridge and found that the line about dinosaurs was indeed, merely an invention of the television writers. That should have been the end of it, but it wasn't.
See, I hadn't read a Sherlock Holmes story since the third grade, and hey I already had the book for a couple of weeks, right? Right. So I started reading the stories and found I absolutely loved Doyle's stories. That made me start watching the Granada Television episodes (they were being rerun of the A&E cable channel) and seeking out all things Sherlock Holmes. I have an obsessive personality. I know this. But my Holmes mania was perhaps the most obsessive of my obsessions. I read the Doyle stories over and over and scarcely a night went by that I didn't re-watch an episode from the Granada series. Being me I became interested in Doyle as well as Holmes and I tracked down half a dozen Doyle biographies. This led to an interest in the Victorian Age in general and I was soon reading biographies of other imminent Victorians such as Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker, and so forth. This would lead to me going further back to Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen. I was already a Charles Dickens fan.
I can't remember now why Holmes seized my imagination. Perhaps I didn't know then, either. Part of it was the sheer fun of Doyle's stories. People who haven't read them think of them as stuffy Victorian detective yarns, but they're much more than that. Some of them are adventure stories with Holmes dashing about London, boxing his way out of trouble, or caught up in a steam launch chase down the Thames. There are villains and heroines and gun fights and last minute rescues from horrible fates. Sure there are also puzzles and clues and mysteries to be solved, but some of the stories have little true mystery to them at all.
I think though, that it was ultimately Holmes' personality that drew me to the character. He too is an obsessive individual, but his obsession is with crime. He thinks of little else and cares for little else. He is a reasoning machine, always a little ahead of everyone else. Someone once referred to Holmes as 'Tarzan for intellectuals' and I think that's a good description. Where Tarzan is superior to other humans in every physical sense, Sherlock Holmes is superior to us in every mental sense. He walks through a world of ignorant, unobservant dolts, puzzled that they can't see the things that are so obvious to him. He is in many ways a precursor of Super heroes like Doc Savage and Batman.
Another thing that didn't hurt was the aforementioned Jeremy Brett's performance as Holmes. Brett and Holmes are linked in my mind, to the point that when I read a Sherlock Holmes story I do see Brett in my mind's eye. He made that big an impression, playing Holmes closer to Doyle's conception of the character than any actor had ever done before.
Anyway, over the next few years I collected over 300 books related to Holmes and/or Conan Doyle. Many of these were pastiches, teaming Holmes with everyone from Alan Quartermain to Dracula to Fu Manchu. Many others were scholarly tomes about Holmes and the Victorian age. A couple were even cookbooks.
Eventually the obsession led to my making four trips to London. The first time was just to walk on Baker Street and visit some of the places mentioned in the Holmes stories. Later trips were better balanced with more tourist-like activities, but there was always some Holmesian stuff involved. London remains my favorite city in the world and I really need to get back there.
Despite what Cliff Biggers or Chris Appel might tell you, I didn't go around in a deerstalker cap, though I do own a couple. Oddly enough I have never written a Holmes pastiche, though I did write several mystery stories with very Conan Doyle style plots. And yes, I have been known to refer to Chris as Watson from time to time. Some other day I'll bore you with my occasional forays into amateur sleuthing.
Anyway, my rediscovery of sword & sorcery about 1999 pushed Holmes to a back burner and there he has remained. But unlike some of my previous obsessions, Sherlock Holmes has never entirely gone away. I still buy most new Holmes pastiches and watch any movies or television shows that deal with Holmes. And as I have pointed out once or twice before, this very blog is named in honor of the great detective who was only interested in cases that possessed "Singular Points of interest."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sherlock


"Brilliant! Yes! Four serial suicides and now a note. Ah! It's Christmas!" Now that's Sherlock Holmes. Yes, it's updated to the here and now with today's sensibilities, but Holmes would have been just that enthusiastic. I'm blathering about a scene from the first episode of the BBC's new series, Sherlock, which brings Holmes and Watson into today's world and does a great job of it. In the past people have usually tried to update Holmes by means of suspended animation of time travel or some such thing to get Holmes into the present. Now, Doctor Who writer and producer, Steven Moffat has simply recast Holmes in contemporary times.
The first episode, 'A Study in Pink' pretty much had me at the sentence quoted above, but a couple of scenes later, Moffat reimagines a scene from Doyle where Holmes explains various deductions about Watson based on a cell phone. In Doyle it was a pocket watch but all the deductions work just as well with the cell. A brilliant updating of a classic scene.
The actor portraying Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch, has what Robert Downey Jr. lacked. The maddening, almost inhuman aloofness and confidence of Sherlock Holmes. He can drop a withering insult in a way that would make Jeremy Brett proud. In fact he does remind me somewhat of Brett, particularly his voice. Downey tried, but he just couldn't pull it off.
There's some nifty camera tricks that show you Holmes' deductive process and his encyclopedic knowledge of the city of London. Martin Freeman, the actor who plays Watson seems very solid and just like Doyle's Watson, shows that he's a man of action when the need arises. All and all, a great debut episode.
There is a clever twist near the end of he episode but I'm proud to say that I wasn't fooled. I am not without certain powers of deduction myself. Anyway, I understand that the series is going to be shown on PBS's Mystery! here in the US. Give it a shot. If the other two episodes are as good as the first, I'll be very pleased.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Doctor Who:The Adventure Games.


The BBC has released a couple of downloadable computer games featuring the 11th Doctor and his companion Amy Pond. They're a free download if you live in the UK, but it's five bucks for the two of them here in the US. I downloaded them last week and so far have only had time to do the first two parts of the first game, City of the Daleks. I'm finding the games to be a lot of fun. They're kid friendly so they aren't overly violent, but much like the Doctor Who program, they make up in charm whatever they're lacking in violent action. Basically you get to control the Doctor as he and Amy try to learn how the Daleks managed to conquer Earth in 1963. There's plenty of running and hiding and puzzle solving and you get to travel in the Tardis and use the Sonic Screwdriver to open doors and rewire things and do all the stuff the Doctor does.
Both Matt Smith (the Doctor) and Karen Gillian (Amy) provided voice acting and motion capture for the game so the avatars really look and sound like the pair. City of the Daleks has a well written plot of the same kind you expect from the show so it's kind of like you get to take part in an episode of the series.
My only complaint is that the avatars have somewhat limited movements (they can't jump for instance) and controlling them can be a little wonky. You're using the mouse for camera control and character control at the same time. It gets easier as you go, but I'm so used to having complete control of my avatar Kharrn in Lord of the Rings Online, that anything less tends to annoy me. But hey, at $2.50 a game, I can't complain much. Overall I'm having a good time with City of the Daleks. Next up is Blood of the Cybermen.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Reading Report


Howdy folks. Sorry I've been absent a lot this month, but I've been working on the novel and when I'm writing I tend to be very focused, so I haven't dropped by to blog much. However I've still gotten a little reading done.
I read one of the later Doc Savage novels, No Light to Die By, which is something of an anomaly in that it was written in first person singular. There were 181 Doc Savage books originally published in the pulps and the first 168 of them were written, mostly by Lester Dent, in snappy hardboiled third person prose. One of Dent's admirers was Dashiell Hammet, author of The Maltese Falcon and the Thin Man, and one of the pioneers of the hardboiled private eye genre, so Dent must have been doing something right. (Reportedly Hammett was one of Dent's favorite authors too. As far as I know, these two pulp titans never met.)
But for some reason, Dent's editor decided that she wanted the Nay-June 1947 issue of Doc Savage Magazine to be written in the first person. Rather than have Doc or one of his team narrate the tale, Dent invented a character named Sammy Wales, a kind of everyman who finds himself mixed up in dangerous events and more or less kidnapped by Doc Savage and Monk Mayfair. We should all be so lucky. It makes for an interesting change as we get to see Doc and the gang through the eyes of a bystander rather than an impartial narrator. You get more of a feeling of what it might have been like to go along on one of Doc's adventures.
No Light to Die By was apparently successful enough that the first person bit was repeated four more times, including one story, I Died Yesterday, narrated by Doc's gorgeous cousin Patricia Savage. I've read that one too, but I still have the other three first person Docs to read. You can get No Light to Die By and I Died Yesterday in nifty recent reprints from Sanctum Books, or if you just can't wait, track down a copy of Bantam's Doc Savage Omnibus Volume Five from 1988, which contains all five of the first person stories.
Motivated by a well written review by Ryan Harvey at Black Gate of L.Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter's 1968 Conan pastiche Conan of the Isles, I decided to give that one a try. Unfortunately I couldn't make it past twenty pages. Most of that, I think, is a writing style that has gone out of fashion. Pretty much all of those twenty pages are telling and not showing, as the writing teachers used to say. It's all background and I'm sure it's leading up to something but it lost my attention before the story really got started. I also found what little dialog there was to be stilted and unconvincing. I've enjoyed some of the de Camp/Carter short pastiches in the past, so maybe I'll try it again later. Or maybe not.
Cliff loaned me a book called All You Need is Ears, which is a memoir by George Martin, the man who recorded and produced the Beatles pretty much from the beginning. As Cliff notes, if anyone should be called the fifth Beatle, it's Martin. I love a good memoir and I'm fascinated by 'behind the scenes' details, and I really like the Beatles, so I'm enjoying this one a lot.
As always there was some short story reading. H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Ernest Hemingway, and others.
On my to be read pile I have The 8th Confession by James Patterson, Blood of Ambrose by James Enge, and a couple more Beatles related books supplied by Cliff. Coming up later this month is the next installment in Terry Brooks' Genesis of Shannara series, Bearers of the Black Staff. As always, the reading goes on.

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: http://jamesenge.com/