Thursday, 24 September 2009
‘Blood of Ambrose’ – James Enge (Pyr)
It’s getting round to that time of year where I look at the reading pile and realise that all my reading plans for the year haven’t worked out at all. The year always starts out with a whole load of ‘must reads’ but life always seems to conspire against me ever getting round to picking them up. There’s a blog post in there somewhere...
Anyway... One of these books was James Enge’s ‘Blood of Ambrose’, a book that piqued my interest and then promptly got lost in one of the piles of books that are making the study a place where you have to tread very carefully! I got there in the end though! The arrival of an advance copy of ‘This Crooked Way’ (the sequel to ‘Blood of Ambrose’) meant that I had to read ‘Blood of Ambrose’ first if I was to have any chance of understanding what was going on.
I finished ‘Blood of Ambrose’ over my lunch break and it’s one of those books where I wanted to keep reading but also put it down at the same time. There was enough there to persuade me to give ‘This Crooked Way’ a go but it was a very close thing...
The Ontilian Empire is under the rule of Lord Urdhven the ‘Protector’; King Lathmar is too young to rule (and just how did his parents die...?) and if Urdhven has his way the young King will never get any older... The only other person standing between Urdhven and the throne is Ambrosia, the King’s (very) elderly relation, and she is imprisoned on charges of witchcraft. Lathmar and Ambrosia’s only hope is Ambrosia’s brother Morlock. Here’s a man who could save the day, if his tendency to fall asleep and get drunk (not in that order) doesn’t get in the way.
There’s a kingdom to be won, and a King that must be prepared for his throne, but the true battle will come from a direction that no-one expects. What is found in the Protector’s shadow will bring the kingdom to its knees...
The first thing I noticed about ‘Blood of Ambrose’ is that the story itself is light on the world building, preferring instead to concentrate on the characters and the situations that they face. On the whole this isn’t done too badly (except for the times when... more on that in a bit) but I was left with the feeling that this could be happening anywhere; like a play performed against a blank backdrop. One of the appendices covers the geographical location of the story but I couldn’t help but think that this information would have sat better in the story itself. Whilst the story itself is enjoyable it did suffer, as far as I was concerned, from not having a background to settle itself in..
As I’ve mentioned, ‘Blood of Ambrose’ is all about the characters and anyone picking this book up is set to meet some pretty interesting people! The villains are all appropriately evil (perhaps cartoonishly so...) but what’s more interesting are the shades of grey that we see in the characters on the side of good. Morlock himself looks like he could quite easily go either way and this ambiguity makes him a fascinating character to read, he knows what he wants but his self imposed isolation from others lets him do whatever he wants in order to achieve his goals. Anything could happen... Morlock, and certain others, are on the side of good but only for reasons that just happen to coincide with the aims of the King; this makes for interesting reading as characters bounce off one another and the plot goes off in directions that you wouldn’t normally expect.
If only they would stop talking about it so much.
Because ‘Blood of Ambrose’ is light on the world building we end up spending more time in the character’s heads, not a great way to spend our time when Morlock (and Ambrosia as well but not so much) is liable to spend pages lecturing Lathmar and generally showing off about how clever he is. Other characters are also liable to take up time joking over wordplay when it’s obvious that more important stuff is happening off stage. These approaches slow the book right down, more often than not just when things are starting to speed up, reducing the pace to a crawl. These were the points when I wanted to stop reading, info dumps like these just do not work!
This was a real shame as the story itself is great when it’s allowed to flow, this was why I kept reading. The dangers faced are huge and Enge leaves his readers in no doubt as to what is at stake. Enge is also more than adept at throwing the reader straight into brilliant swashbuckling scenes of sword fighting and magic that are nothing short of superb. The final scenes, in particular, are more than worth the price of admission. I’ll definitely be reading ‘The Crooked Way’ for more of the same!
‘Blood of Ambrose’ is worth sticking with but I came away with the feeling that it didn’t need to make itself so difficult to get into. When it’s on form though, ‘Blood of Ambrose’ is an entertaining read that promises good things for ‘This Crooked Way’...
Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten