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A Guile of Dragons by James Enge
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James Enge's A Guile of Dragons is actually the first book of a "prequel" series called A Tournament of Shadows featuring his celebrated character Morlock Ambrosius. Not having read the original books, I'm sure my experience is probably going to differ wildly from that of a reader who is already familiar with the world and character, but knowing beforehand that I was going into an origins-type story was good preparation for what to expect.

Most of the book covers the life of young Morlock. We begin at a point before he is even born, then watch as he is given to the dwarves as an infant. Morlock's real father is Merlin -- yes, that Merlin -- though he is raised among the dwarven folk; as such things go, the character's struggles with his birthright and mixed feelings about his heritage eventually emerge as one of the overarching themes of the story.

But on top of that, the book is also an adventure, with an ancient war between dwarves and dragons at its heart. When the dwarven territories are invaded, their defenders taken prisoner or placed under the corrupted influence of dragonspells, it falls to Morlock to protect his surrogate family and the people who raised him.

This was a good story, well told in its complexity and showing of relationships between different characters, but I have a feeling I'm not clicking with it as much as I should. I'm sure a lot of it had to do with the book and I getting off on the wrong foot, with the introductory chapters throwing me off with its pacing. The sections that take place before Morlock's birth and up to the brief scenes of his childhood with the dwarves feel like they should have been a prologue, separated from the rest of the book.

I understand the importance of including this time of his life as part of his backstory, but I don't know if it meshes that well with everything that comes afterward. The first part of the book felt like a running commentary on the circumstances behind Morlock's birth, resulting in a disconnect between myself and the character. Fortunately, the book really gets going once he reaches adulthood and we get into the meat of the story, when we encounter the dragons and their violent confrontations with the dwarves.

What follows is a very intriguing take on the history behind the dwarven-dragon conflict, and the intricacies in the nature of the two societies. The character dynamics also pick up, and as factors like bitter resentment or shifting loyalties start to come into play, things get a lot more interesting. The author throws in a lot of surprising twists, and I have to say one of my favorite aspects of this book is how Enge incorporates elements from legend and Arthurian fantasy into the world lore.

My overall feeling is that you can definitely read A Guile of Dragons on its own, but I have no doubt I'm also missing out on a lot of the subtleties. Yet despite delving into this one without any context, I was on the whole impressed. After seeing how the events of this book has shaped Morlock as a character, I admit I find myself curious about him and his future exploits. ( )
  stefferoo | Dec 27, 2013 |
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"The son of Merlin Ambrosius and Nimue Viviana but abandoned at birth, Morlock Ambrosius grew up among the dwarves of Thrymhaiam. Though he is cherished by his adoptive father, Tyr syr Theorn, his differences as a nondwarf led to a parting of the ways. When the dragons defeated ages ago by the dwarves return in an unholy alliance with the dead kings of Cor, the task of confronting them falls upon Morlock."--Library Journal.… (more)

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