The Wolf Age
by James Enge
Cover Artist: Dominic Harman
Review by Benjamin Wald
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616142438
Date: 05 October 2010 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
There has been a lot of discussion of late about the rebirth of the sword and sorcery tradition within fantasy literature over the last few years, providing some welcome variety from the hegemony of epic Tolkienesque fantasy that held sway for so long. However, of all the modern day writers of sword and sorcery, James Enge is the only one I know of to have resurrected the pulp-era practice of creating a heroic anti-hero and then just following his adventures. Most fantasy character's adventures are tied together by some common quest or destiny, but Enge's signature character, Morlock Ambrosius, bounces between loosely related adventures without any such guiding thread. Merlock is a true successor of Conan and Elric, a larger than life hero who finds adventure wherever he goes simply because of his wandering nature and penchant for getting into (and out of) trouble. The Wolf Age is the third novel that follows the peregrinations of Morlock, and it's a fast-paced and exciting read, full of werewolves, scheming Gods, and wizardry and battles aplenty.
The novel begins with Morlock's capture by a raiding party of werewolves, who bring him to the werewolf city of Wuruyaaria. This brings me to one of my few quibbles with the book. The werewolf names frustrating long, vowel filled, and unpronounceable. I get that Enge wanted to reflect the wolf-like language of the werewolves, but it made for frustrating reading at times. Even worse, some of the names were similar enough, and complicated enough, that it was hard to remember who was who; Hlupnafengu and Hrutnefdhu were particularly hard to keep strait.
The first part of the novel follows Morlock's attempts to survive and escape from the werewolf prison. This section of the novel does a good job of introducing the reader to the werewolf society and also serves as a good introduction to Morlock's character. However, the novel really gets going once Morlock leads a prison break and falls in with an outcast band of werewolves. From here the novel changes tone, following the political struggles of the outcast werewolves and their attempt to forge a place for themselves in society. However, given the violence of werewolf politics, this gives plenty of opportunity for Enge’s excellently written action sequences.
This is a first rate fantasy novel. Enge creates a detailed society for the werewolf city, and the werewolf characters are surprisingly sympathetic for a group of man-eating monsters. The novel is fast-paced, with plenty of action and excitement. Enge also does not shy from inflicting pain and disaster on his characters, leading to a real sense of suspense as to whether or not favorite characters will survive.
Morlock is a fascinating character. He is something of an anti-hero; while he has a code of honor and is intensely loyal to his friends, he is occasionally indifferent to the evils that surround him. The werewolf city makes abundant use of human slaves, both for labor and for meat, and Morlock seems willing to overlook this fact while he aids the werewolves he has befriended. He also has a dark side, manifested most clearly by his alcoholism. These flaws make him more human, and more interesting. This is a top quality fantasy novel, well written and gripping. I will be on the lookout for more of the adventures of Morlock Ambrosius.