A Guile of Dragons (Tournament of Shadows, Book 1)
by James Enge
Cover Artist: Steve Stone
Review by Benjamin Wald
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616146283
Date: 24 August 2012 List Price $17.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
James Enge's peripatetic sorcerer and inventor Morlock Ambrosius is the modern answer to such sword and sorcery heroes as Elric or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Like these classic heroes (or anti-heroes), Morlock travels widely having a series of adventures in various exotic locales. Morlock himself is a fascinating character, brilliant and keenly observant, but taciturn and prone to alcoholism, with a complicated past and enduring enmity with his scheming father Merlin.
A Guile of Dragons is a prequel of sorts, telling an adventure from early in Morlock's life. Because of its early setting, Morlock is not yet the accomplished sorcerer of later adventures, nor is he quite as sure of his own identity. It is interesting to see this earlier version of Morlock, but the adolescent version lacks some of the interest of the adult. This, along with some hiccups in plotting, made this latest addition to Morlock's story less enthralling than earlier novels. However, there is still plenty to enjoy in Enge's deft world building and elegant prose.
The main plot of the novel concerns an assault by a powerful guile of dragons on the Dwarven holds that make up the northern boarders of the wardlands, and the struggle by the Morlock and others of the Graith of Gaurdian's to repel this invasion. Enge's dragons are a nice twist on classic dragon archetypes. They possess a lust for gold and power and the ability to breath fire; they constantly exhale poison, and anyone who looks in their eyes risks falling under the dragons spell. All in all, they are formidable opponents, and make for some thrilling battles.
Morlock in his earlier years lacks most of his magical abilities, which deprived me of some of my favorite elements of earlier Morlock novels, where Morlock develops some clever mystical trick to defeat his opponents. There are also a few plot points that feel shoehorned in just to get the characters where Enge needs them. A crucial revelation about the nature of the dwarves and dragons feels shoehorned in, and Morlock's reaction to it never quite had the room it needed to fully hit home.
Still, there are many things to like in this novel, especially for long term Morlock fans. We get to learn more about Merlin, and about Morlock's childhood with the dwarves and his life in the Wardlands. While I didn't find the young Morlock as interesting to read about as his more mature self, Enge's writing is still top notch. I wouldn't suggest this as a starting point for someone interested in checking out Enge's writing, but it is worth checking out for those already a fan of Morlock Ambrosius.