The Wolf Age for me was predominately a book about friendship, the bonds that grow between people who suffer indignity together and the strength they can draw from one another. This book for all its grim gritty noirish sword and sorcery action and artifacts felt very personal and I had a great amount of empathy for many of its characters no matter how small a part they may have had. James managed to mix genres and folklore in ways that I really could not predict the direction the third adventure of Morlock Ambrosious would take and that is hard to do with sword and sorcery that feels so much like Moorcock or Liber's iconic stories. I wholeheartedly recommend reading James Enge's sometimes enigmatic heros tales but with the caveat that this is not the story to start with.
Here is the blurb from Pyr:
shields are shattered.
before the world founders
no man will show mercy to another."
Wuruyaaria: city of werewolves, whose raiders range over the dying northlands, capturing human beings for slaves or meat. Wuruyaaria: where a lone immortal maker wages a secret war against the Strange Gods of the Coranians. Wuruyaaria: a democracy where some are more equal than others, and a faction of outcast werewolves is determined to change the balance of power in a long, bloody election year.
Their plans are laid; the challenges known; the risks accepted. But all schemes will shatter in the clash between two threats few had foreseen and none had fully understood: a monster from the north on a mission to poison the world, and a stranger from the south named Morlock Ambrosius.
James Enge has so many great little and big surprises in store for readers in The Wolf Age its hard to write about the cool stuff without spoilers and since I enjoyed the reveals I don't want to say too much. I will say that when I was only a third into the nearly 500page adventure I wanted to go back to the start just to experience it all again and revisit events which I am sure I missed things. His writing is as many reviewers write akin to the noir masters; his prose is not overworked, plots move fast with wit, snappy dialogue and he pulls no punches with the grim and dark events.
So what are you getting from The Wolf Age...
Among the numerous schemers in this novel the main orchestrators are the conceptual Strange Gods; they remind me of the endless from Neil Gaimens Sandman. They are very human like embodiments of concepts like war, wisdom, justice, stupidity death and play a similar manipulative roll in The Wolf Age as do the Greek gods in the Illiad. They appear at times in the story as viewpoint characters revealing plot elements outside the other players or giving a different view of events once to oddly funny scene descriptions.
James created an entire culture of all were-wolves building a consistently interesting and fascinating society driven both by animal instincts and human seeming ideas of democracy and progress. The werewolves he created get to exist outside our modern world they are allowed to be fully in tune with both if their natures even if some of them cant fully change into both their forms. The were-characters we get to really know are just as driven, quirky, funny, and tragic as any human (or whatever other race again fantasy) I encountered in James' stories. Since they are fast healers and hard to kill the scenes that happen while the three main heroes of the story suffer a lit of pretty nasty damage making the prison scenes and even the escape very cringeworthy and grizzly.
And Morlock Ambrosious, well if you've not encountered him yet he is a names sword weilding, artefact creating, ambidextrous swordsman wizard who has been a hero, a killer, a notorious hopeless drunk and a figure of stories used to frighted naughty kids. He is also a man of his own honour and principals. At the beginning of this story he's left behind friends and companions for their protection and is in a bleak mood but gets drawn into a net cast by the strange gods and others and shown what hitting rock bottom can be like... Again. He's a long lived character, heals much better then humans (more fodder for the prison scenes) and prone to manic bursts of creative fervour and deep depressions. He's complicated and though a viewpoint character remains tantalisingly enigmatic though I felt I knew him. He is driven in this story by his strong feeling for his blood bonded friends and they to him so the tragedies that occur hurt all the more.
The Wolf Age is both one of the roughest books I read this year on terms if the wringer the characters went through. I loved reading about Morlock and his faithful wolf brothers of choice; the tale is a full heroes journey for the lot of them and it's one I want to read again.
As an addendum : there are several awful things that happen in this novel that happen as a direct result of choices characters make; characters pay permanent prices for their actions or inactions and just as the friendships are a core element of the plot so are mistakes they make.
You can find James Enge's website here and a free Morlock story at Pyr's website here.
I received my copy from Pyr for review
Here are links to places where you can get copies.....