Wrath-bearing Tree (Tournament of Shadows Book 2)
by James Enge
Cover Artist: Steve Stone
Review by Benjamin Wald
Pyr Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616147815
Date: 06 August 2013 List Price $18.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
James Enge's series of novels and short stories about the laconic, crooked shouldered wanderer Morlock Ambrosius have revitalized the sword and sorcery sub-genre. Wrath-Bearing Tree is the second novel in Enge's trilogy of novels dealing with Morlock's origins, and how he becomes the wandering exile of the other stories. The first novel showed how Morlock became a full member of the graith of guardians, the organization that defends Morlock's home country of the Wardlands from danger. In this novel, Morlock falls in love. Being Morlock, of course, he does so in the middle of a quest to protect the Wardlands, one that brings him into conflict with his powerful and amoral father Merlin.
Like many of the Morlock novels, this one is organized as if it were a collection of short stories. The story is divided up into a series of discrete challenges, often featuring an encounter with some supernatural threat, that is overcome in the course of the larger plot. This allows Enge to showcase his prodigious imagination, with a series of memorable monsters and gods that oppose Morlock. In this novel, we also get to encounter a number of bizarre and dysfunctional societies worshiping equally bizarre gods. This gives the story a bit of a Jack Vance flavor to it, and a bit of Vance's sense of humor is also present. I particularly enjoyed a sequence that featured a herd of murderous sheep and a giant fire-breathing goat.
The romance elements are more of a mixed bag. Morlock's shyness around his love interest is overplayed, making him sound like a stereotypical teenager. The object of his affections, Aloe Oaij, is a well-rendered and interesting character, but her relationship with Morlock never quite rings true. There are a few fairly graphic sex scenes, and the description in them fell flat for me. On the other hand, I liked that there are problems for the sex life of the young lovers. Aloe has a painful history that disrupts their sex life at first, which is a refreshing change from the parade of perfect sex first time in most stories, and it is dealt with in a sensitive manner. Also, seeing Morlock get attached to someone, and make himself vulnerable, is surprisingly touching, which works well.
One of the downfalls of the previous book in this trilogy was that the younger Morlock was not as interesting as the mature version from the other stories. Luckily this is not a problem in this novel. The Morlock in this novel shows the confidence and skill of the later Morlock, but without some of Morlock's bitterness or loneliness. It makes for an interesting contrast, and a sad dose of dramatic irony.
The overarching plot of the novel concerns a threat to the Wardlands from a pair of feuding gods, the twin powers. However, this overarching plot often fades into the background, and the final resolution feels rushed and a bit unsatisfying. Not all of the segments are equally compelling, but the parts are greater than the whole.
This is not the best place to start, nor is it the best of Enge's novels. Still, it contains some highly entertaining stories, and provides a great chance to spend some more time with Morlock, who is one of the most entertaining characters in sword and sorcery.