A Guile of Dragons starts at the very beginning of Morlock Ambrosius’s life, in King Arthur’s Court. A betrayal and capture winds up dragging the parents of Morlock, Merlin (*that* Merlin) and his pregnant mistress Nimue across the Sea of Worlds to the Wardlands, Merlin’s home plane. (A nice touch to Amber and Moorcock). Our hero gets an ignoble birth in the old home of the Ambrosii, and a stay of execution, as a timely intervention stops a probable infanticide. The narrative then jumps ahead and focuses on the mature Morlock raised by those dwarves who long owe his father for aiding them against their ancient enemies, the Dragons, who have returned, and it is the Dwarf-Dragon War that drives the conflicts of the novel.
This first part of Morlock’s story in A Guile of Dragons walks a fine line between Tolkien-esque epic fantasy and sword and sorcery. The lens focus is tight on the few point of view characters presented, with details of the Dwarvish world expertly rendered, action winningly described and magic, mysterious and nebulous (even as our protagonist is himself a worker of magic). The Dragon’s use of magic, in particular, feels murky, amorphous, mysterious and dangerous. The short page count and the brisk pacing also enhances the sword and sorcery feel.
In contrast to that sword and sorcery feel, the novel uses and draws from epic fantasy, especially Tolkienic epic fantasy, that Enge likes the best. There is a notable emphasis on the details of his invented words and language, the relatively wide scale of events (including the obligatory, and gorgeous, map) and appendixes explaining some of the details of the Wardlands, including a calendar. The tone of these appendixes have a scholarly feel that readers of the Appendixes of Tolkien’s Return of the King will find familiar, and welcome.
In addition, the novel both sows the seeds and reaps some of a conflict even larger than a Dragon-Dwarf War, as two eternally opposed Gods, Fate and Chaos, can agree on one thing that they hate and the one thing they might cooperate to oppose and destroy: the line of Ambrosius. Even as Morlock Syr Theorn struggles against his adopted people’s foes, his heritage starts casting a shadow on him and his actions even here, and promises to only grow in subsequent volumes.
The first in the three volume Tournament of Shadows series, A Guile of Dragons provides the origin story for Morlock Ambrosius previously seen in Enge’s novels Blood of Ambrose, This Crooked Way and The Wolf Age. A Guile of Dragons is especially recommended for Enge’s Morlock Ambrosius fans, and for anyone interested in this interface between sword and sorcery and the epic.