Blood of Ambrose: Seamlessly blends epic fantasy and sword & sorcery

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews James Enge Blood of AmbroseBlood of Ambrose by James Enge

“The King was screaming in the throne room when the Protector’s Men arrived” — and with good reason. The King, Lathmar, is about twelve years old when his “Protector,” Urdhven, decides to seize the throne. Urdhven captures Lathmar and his many-times-great-grandmother, Ambrosia Viviana (a daughter of Merlin — apparently the Merlin of Arthurian legend — who’s therefore exceptionally long-lived), but not before they send word to Ambrosia’s brother, the infamous Morlock Ambrosius. Together, Lathmar, Ambrosia, Morlock, and Morlock’s dwarven apprentice plot and battle to preserve Lathmar’s rule, not only against the Protector, but also the sorcerer behind the Protector, a shadowy figure whose horrific plans reach beyond the realms’ government and into the soul of every citizen.

Blood of Ambrose, James Enge’s debut novel, seamlessly blends the genres of epic fantasy and sword-and-sorcery. The novel is an epic fantasy to the extent that it chronicles the orphaned Lathmar’s struggle to grow from childhood into manhood for the sake of himself and his people. It’s sword-and-sorcery in its depiction of the fight of Morlock — an exile and lone wolf who’s both a swordsman and sorcerer — against the Protector’s patron and minions.

While there are few surprises in either arc on a large scale, Enge has a true gift for small-scale play with the world’s magical system, allowing for multiple thought-provoking surprises in the creation of problems for the heroes and, especially, in their solutions. This is no small feat. Like Ambrosia, Morlock is long-lived and experienced. He’s a master swordsman (armed with a magical “accursed” sword, Tyrfing), a master maker of magical constructs, and a seer. His blood is flammable when shed, but he himself is inflammable, and he has a treaty with the world’s crows, who serve as his messengers and spies. So even though he has the tell-tale crooked shoulders of his family and is known as a killjoy and drunk (who still fights impressively even when under the influence), he’d still be a vastly powerful character in any fantasy roleplaying game, and true challenges for him would be rare. Fortunately, the Protector’s patron is ultimately revealed as such a challenge.

It’s important to note that, while Blood of Ambrose is Enge’s debut as a novelist, it’s not Morlock’s debut. Morlock’s adventures have previously been featured in Black Gate Magazine and other venues (such as The Return of the Sword anthology), and those tales provide background for some elements of the novel (e.g., the treaty with the crows).

Readers accustomed to “typical” medieval fantasies should also note that this is not one. As opposed to using close, third-person-limited viewpoints to unwrap the tale (as, e.g., George R.R. Martin does in A Game of Thrones to create a strong sense of living in the viewpoint character’s mind), Enge almost exclusively employs a classic omniscient viewpoint, one marked by constant cleverness, but also with frequent dryness or wryness. (For example, Morlock has created a group of small, sentient, verbal flames; and at one point, there’s concern that an argument among them will degenerate into a “flame war.”) This isn’t to say that the story is emotionless — it’s not, and this reviewer found Chapter 24 (“The Dying City”) one of the best fantasy chapters he’s read in a while — but it may not satisfy those looking to lose themselves in a character’s mind or world.

As a final note, newcomers may find it helpful to read the novel’s appendices before or in conjunction with the opening chapters, in order to orient themselves with the realm’s geography, gods, and calendar.

A promising debut, recommended for fans of sword-and-sorcery and fans of medieval fantasy looking for something a little different.  Recommended with slight reservation for fans of highly descriptive or personal heroic fantasy.

~Rob Rhodes


fantasy book reviews James Enge Blood of AmbroseTwelve year-old Lathmar has lived an extremely sheltered life. That is, up until he recently became king. His parents, the former king and queen, died under “questionable circumstances” and his uncle, the Protector of the realm, plans a similar fate for him. Now, Lathmar’s only protection is his many-times-over great-grandmother Ambrosia. Guarding Lathmar’s escape, Ambrosia sends him after the one person who can save them, her infamous brother Morlock.

James Enge has crafted unique and exciting tales that revolve around one of the coolest characters ever in fantasy. In fact, I think I just may have a man-crush on Morlock Ambrosius. (The last time I felt this way was for Joe Abercrombie’s Logen Ninefingers from The First Law.)

Morlock is the greatest magical Maker of this world and he is also a master swordsman. He’s a thaumaturge who has knowledge of all the arcane arts. Known as The Crooked Man — because of the family trait in which one shoulder is higher than the other — and many other names, Morlock is hated and feared throughout the land. His name is used to curse traitors. He talks to crows and wields a magic black sword called Tyrfing. Morlock has wandered this world of Laent for several centuries, an exile and a dry drunk. He’s clever, has a dry wit, and is always more than what he seems.

Blood of Ambrose is such a fun story to read. Enge is one of those rare authors whose style and prose is perfect for a fantasy — he has that ability to create language that sounds archaic but is still understandable and flows like a bard’s tale. The reader is surprised again and again with completely unpredicted plot twists or resolutions. Plus, Enge drops crafty little details of a relation between this story and Arthurian legend, which adds an enticingly rich back-story. As do the appendixes that detail the land of Laent, the deities, and the calendar and astronomy. The world is both strange and familiar to our own.

I can honestly say that I haven’t read anything quite like these tales about Morlock Ambrosius. The series is considered to be a new sword and sorcery tale: a fantasy story that revolves around a character instead of the kingdom-sized conflict of an epic. James Enge has earned himself another fan in this reviewer.

Note: I read the Amazon Kindle edition of Blood of Ambrose and felt I should comment that it’s the best e-book version I’ve read to date. It downloaded complete with the front and back covers, the illustrations, and even the interesting initial that starts each chapter.

~Greg Hersom


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ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

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GREG HERSOM’S (on FanLit's staff January 2008 -- September 2012) addiction began with his first Superboy comic at age four. He moved on to the hard-stuff in his early teens after acquiring all of Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the controversial L. Sprague de Camp & Carter edited Conan series. His favorite all time author is Robert E. Howard. Greg also admits that he’s a sucker for a well-illustrated cover — the likes of a Frazetta or a Royo. Greg live with his wife, son, and daughter in a small house owned by a dog and two cats in a Charlotte, NC suburb. He retired from FanLit in Septermber 2012 after 4.5 years of faithful service but he still sends us a review every once in a while.

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One comment

  1. FYI- I just found out that this book is a best novel nominee for the 2009 World Fantasy Award!! :thumb: Go Enge!!!!

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