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Morlock the Maker -- James Enge


Aug 12, 2012
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Anyone been reading these? I first read James Enge in Black Gate magazine (heck, anyone read that? I've had to fulfill my subscription with back issues because they've dropped the print edition entirely) a couple of years ago, I believe the short story was "Destroyer". I really enjoyed it--it felt a lot like a classic sword and sorcery adventure with an interesting antihero character and a pretty unique fantasy universe. The main threat was fairly uncommon in fantasy literature--a race of intelligent parasitic insectoids who implant people with their eggs so they can burst out of them later, Alien-style. Then a few months later I saw the first two novels in a bargain bookstore and picked them up for just a few dollars each, brand new, since they were so cheap, meaning to read them.

Well, as often happens with me, as I have a hard time passing up a "bargain", they found their way (still in the plastic bag) to a shelf and didn't see the light of day again for a few years. I mean in the meantime I have read the entire span of Guy Gavriel Kay's ouvre, for an example, and multiple other novels--I just kind of forgot I picked them up.

So, anyway, one day I found I was sick to death of whatever I was reading (I think it was a Death Gate novel) and looked at my shelf. They'd been in the back of my head for a long time, so I thought, hey, what the heck, I'll check these out.



Morlock Ambrosius is the protagonist of the novels. He's a crook-backed, centuries old magician, master of the art of Making, exiled from his homeland for the crime of saving the world, and dry drunk (he's an alcoholic, but does his best not to drink...sometimes he can't always succeed, however). Carrying the magic sword Tyrfing, he often finds himself getting involved in various adventures he would probably rather avoid.

Blood of Ambrose is the first novel, and it is excellent. Hilarious, exciting, unique--Enge has no problem interlacing dark humor with gorey action and gross horror. It's not high literature (though the prose is pretty great, actually) but it's some of the best sword and sorcery I've read in years.

Morlock returns to the capital of the Ontilian empire to save his sister and great great great great great great...etc. etc....nephew, heir to the kingdom, from the evil Lord Protector. Unfortunately, killing a golem in a trial-by-combat (while hopelessly drunk) is just the first step in a sequence of events that will have him facing ghouls, necromancers, animated flayed skin (yuck), and a host of other horrors. The story is not just a Morlock adventure but also a coming-of-age story for his great great...etc. etc.... nephew, Lathmar, who has to deal with being a king in a kingdom where his overbearing grandmother is almost as scary as the people who really want to kill him.

This Crooked Way, the second novel, is actually a novelized version of many of the Morlock the Maker short stories Enge has written over the years, arranged in chronological order and modified a bit to be interrelated. One could easily read this book without reading Blood of Ambrose, as most of it was written before that novel. Having not read 95% of them before I was still well entertained even though I had read a few in the past. A few of these stories are available on the internet, however, so it might be possible to skip this volume if you are very cheap, though at least a few of them are not available anywhere else but this book or Black Gate magazine.

From Amazon:
"Travelling alone in the depths of winter, Morlock Ambrosius (bitterly dry drunk, master of all magical makers, wandering swordsman, and son of Merlin Ambrosius and Nimue Viviana) is attacked by an unknown enemy. To unmask his enemy and end the attacks he must travel a long crooked way through the world: past the soul-eating Boneless One, past a subtle and treacherous master of golems, past the dragon-taming Khroi, past the predatory cities of Sarkunden and Aflraun, past the demons and dark gnomes of the northern woods. Soon he will find that his enemy wears a familiar face, and that the duel he has stumbled into will threaten more lives than his own, leaving nations shattered in its chaotic wake. And at the end of his long road waits the death of a legend."


I've got The Wolf Age (an actual novel, not a collection of short stories like This Crooked Way) and A Guile of Dragons ordered. A Guile of Dragons is actually the beginning of a prequel trilogy better explaining Morlock's backstory in detail as to why he was originally exiled from the Wardlands for wrestling the lord of the Sunkillers (long story) and his further adventures before Blood of Ambrose. We'll see how they are.

Anyway, if you have read any of these books, thoughts? If not, hopefully I whetted your interest in them a bit. They really are a lot of fun to read, some of the funnest pulp fantasy I've read in a long time.


For those interested, James Enge's wikipedia page has links to all the stories available free on the internet:


The first five chapters of This Crooked Way:


If you have no time for anything else, I'd recommend reading the story Chapter V: "Fire and Water", as a good example of his writing style and plotting.



Note: Artwork and pictures from Black Gate magazine.

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