Blood of Ambrose, by James Enge
Posted January 11, 2011on:
The super quick version of this review is “last 100 pages more than makes up for first 100 pages”.
the beginning of Blood of Ambrose didn’t do a damn thing for me, but the end knocked my socks off in a most supercalifragalistic away.
We start off with young King Lathmar, who at age eleven has already been orphaned and thus inherited a small kingdom and a regent known as The Protector. Raised to be a figurehead and nothing more, Lathmar is naive, sheltered, and rather whiny and annoying. The Protector, Urdhven, has more ambitions than brains and figures taking the kingdom from Lathmar will be like taking candy from a baby. Urdhven’s got some special help, as well. Luckily, Lathmar’s true protector is his great so many times grandmother (who he just calls Grandmother), Ambrosia Viviana. In their time of need, Ambrosia tasks the frightened Lathmar with calling to her brother, knowing he will come and save them.
Enge flounders with worldbuilding and characterization at the beginning, and this will be a turn off to a lot of readers. Unless you’ve already read Enge’s short fiction, you don’t know who any of these people are, you don’t know why you should care, and worst of all you have no idea where any of this is heading. But trust me, you need to keep reading, because it gets better. much better.
Ambrosia Viviana’s brother is Morlock Ambrose, sorcerer, master maker, drunkard, child of Merlin. Morlock the exile, the Crooked Man whose magic has destroyed cities and empires. One must truly be in dire straights to call on his twisted help. There’s a reason he’s the star attraction stories parents tell to frighten their children.
Most of the plot follows Morlock and his apprentice Wyrth along with Ambrosia and Lathmar as they are besieged in the castle by Urdhven and his troops. Partly a coming of age story of Emperor-to-be Lathmar, Blood of Ambrose really shines as an introduction to the tragic mystery that is Morlock Ambrose.
One of the best parts of the book is the banter between Morlock and his sister Ambrosia. Anyone with siblings will recognize the nitpicking, the petty fights, the jealousy and above all, the loyalty. Sure, keeping young Lathmar from becoming dead (or worse, a crappy monarch) is important, but there is nothing more important to Morlock and Ambrosia than keeping each other alive. One a master maker, the other a master seer, they aren’t worth anything to anyone or each other (least of all their sadistic and jealous father) if one of them is dead.
Blood of Ambrose has heavy elements of classical high fantasy, but it reads like an ultramodern snarky dark fantasy. We’ve got dwarves and lineages and royal families and magic and many of the high fantasy tropes I tend to avoid. On the other hand, we’ve got sibling rivalries, jealous spouses, hormonal teenagers, fabulously punny dialog, beautifully timed foreshadowing, and hands down the most unique and most frightening “bad guy” I’ve met. This dude even scares Ambrosia, and that woman ain’t scared of nothin’. I expect to see her kicking some ass in the next Suvudu Cagematch. If you’re apprehensive about this book, read it just for the bad guy. Like everyone else, you’ll be seduced, and by then it will be too late.
Clunky beginnings aside, Enge has really built a beautiful mythology for his characters to play in. With sword and sorcery echoes of Arthurian legend gone horrifically wrong and brimming with potential, this is a world that I just must know more about. That and I have a horrible weakness for tragic dark characters.
Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.