Tuesday, April 12, 2011
BtBG Reader: James Enge, "This Crooked Way"
Last Summer I picked up a book of Sword & Sorcery short stories, "Swords & Dark Magic", which I reviewed here. Now, I have lots of books full of Sword & Sorcery short stories, but most of them were published in the 70's or earlier. As a literary form, Sword & Sorcery had languished a bit, from what I can tell, while "epic" fantasy took center stage. Something happened as the last millennium ended though, and suddenly all these great writers are appearing on bookshelves. "Swords & Dark Magic" is a great starting point if you want to discover what these guys are up to (in addition to some new works from some older torchbearers that never stopped like Cook, Lee, and Moorcock). One of my favorite "new" writers in that book turned out to be James Enge, whose drunken, morbid, anti-hero Morlock Ambrosious is more than deserving to rub elbows with the likes of Elric, Conan, and Cugel.
I picked up Enge's three published novels and devoured them.
My favorite has been "This Crooked Way" which I've devoured twice now. This is old-school picaresque fantasy in the style of Jack Vance; Morlock basically spends the whole book traveling from one point to another, and has a series of interesting encounters, tests, and trials along the way. To add to the mix, Enge has an interesting way of taking traditional fantasy elements and standing them on their ear, such as one fantastic encounter with a troll and a bridge. Also, Morlock is the son of storied wizard Merlin (though the connection between our earthly world and the world of Morlock is not discussed in any detail), who is not exactly a doting father - he plots to trick, thwart, or even kill his son at every opportunity (and he gets several in this book).
Magic plants, supernatural tricksters, witches, sorcery, thieves, golems, inscrutable alien intelligences, there's a lot to absorb here. With so many stops along Morlock's way, the book almost has to be read twice to take it all in.
Like most good Fantastic fiction, the journey is the highlight of the story, not the ending. If you're a fan of old-school Sword & Sorcery, journey along with Morlock for a while. I doubt you'll be disappointed.