The Wolf Age, by James Enge
Posted January 26, 2011on:
The Wolf Age, by James Enge
Published in 2010
Where I got it: received review copy from PYR.
Why I read it: I enjoy Enge’s Morlock short stories, and have previously reviewed his Blood of Ambrose
Eminently readable as a stand-alone novel, there’s a lot going on in The Wolf Age. A lot of plot, a lot of subplot, a lot of subterfuge and characterization and trope-bashing and wonderfulness. I’m going to keep my plot comments minimal, so as to not spoil anything, and more importantly so I can get to the meat of what’s going on here.
The as promised, spoiler-free plot summary: When Morlock tries to rescue some slaves, he finds himself captured, and having had a glass spike hammered into his head he loses his Sight, and gains the mother of all headaches. Thrown into prison in the werewolf city of Wuruyaaria, Morlock is seen as a freak, and is used to terrify the other prisoners. One prison break later,and Morlock is living with some other escapees in the slums outside the city walls. And it’s an election year. Ever been to an election in a werewolf city? They are dangerous, loud, full of muckraking, and occasionally violent. Actually, not so foreign feeling after all.
And maybe it doesn’t matter, but the Strange Gods and the werewolf maker God Ulugaariu are having a little war over the fate Wuruyaaria as well. The Strange Gods don’t really care about the men who follow them, almost as much as Ulugaariu does care about the werewolves who follow him. You will love the Strange Gods and all their flaws. itsy bitsy spoiler – you’ll meet Ulugaaria and witness some truly beautiful and heartbreaking dialog.
But none of that is really the meat of what’s going on here.
What’s going on here is this: Enge excelling at taking elements from stories you’ve heard before – werewolves, unicorns, gods and magic, and turning them into something completely new, done so well you’ll wonder if you’ve been mis-hearing fairy tales your whole life.
It doesn’t hurt that Enge’s characterization and world-building is brilliant. With all the paranormal junk floating around, I was wary of a werewolf city. In the hands of Enge, I shouldn’t have been. this isn’t a city, it is a CITY, with it’s own castes and traditions and slang and mythos and subtleties. Other than their susceptibility to silver, these are the not like werewolves you have ever met, anywhere. And this is a good thing.
Characterization wise, Morlock is the anti-social bastard we’ve come to love through Enge’s short stories and other Morlock adventures (As an anti-social pain in the ass myself, I can’t help but warm to this engineering genius of a drunkard who refuses to cheat on his ex-wife). Once you get past the impossible to pronounce (more on that later) werewolf names, you’ll find the romance between Rokhlenu and Wuinlendhono to be addictively adorable, and Liudhleeo’s attempts to flirt with Morlock to be hilarious.
Enge moves the plot forward best through his fast and snarky dialog, much of which involves characters trying to get a useful response out of Morlock. It’s not that Morlock doesn’t care, it’s that he hasn’t got anything to say. And okay, maybe he doesn’t care. Especially since he spends most of The Wolf Age dying of ghost sickness. Often newer authors struggle with smooth dialog. Not here. Enge writes some plain damn good dialog.
Have I yet impressed on you how much much is crammed into this not overlong epic fantasy novel? It’s a little like Joe Abercrombie meets Gaiman’s American Gods that takes place in an uber-gritty Michael Moorcock Elric story, but told in a sort of Patrick Rothfuss matter-of-fact kind of way. Just much, much darker.
Although, I do need to mention the names. And the pacing. Similar to Enge’s The Blood of Ambrose, large chunks of The Wolf Age drag to the point where reading it almost became a chore, and then, just like in Blood of Ambrose, the end makes it more than worth it, just like I knew it would. And did you catch those werewolf names? Props go to Enge for some genius reasoning behind those names, but there were a ton of them, many of them sounded similar, I couldn’t pronounce them, my brain didn’t want to deal with them, and it did become a hurdle to book enjoyment.
There is tons of good fun to be had in The Wolf Age. Action, swordfights, tragedy, romance, betrayal, warring and fallible gods, often all on the same page. It suffers from a failed experiment in naming conventions, and clunky pacing.
A rather unorganized review, I know. matches my unorganized feelings on the book perfectly.