Wednesday, November 14, 2018

[Book] A Guile of Dragons by James Enge

Book cover
The book starts in a very promising place.  It offers a map.  All of my favorite fantasy novels have included a map, and this leaves me excited for a tale with some traveling.  The first very short chapter introduces some world building back-story, a short story about gods.  Then, on page 19 (or the third page of story) the novel lands in a fantasy space that I find very overused and tired... Merlin in fantasy old England, complete with a mention of King Arthur's Court.  This has nothing to do with the map, and that gave me the hope to keep reading.  This turns out to tell the story of the birth of the actual main character, Morlock Ambrosius, son of Merlin Ambrosius and Nimue Viviana.

The book divides itself into four parts.  The first part explains how the main character comes to be in, and introduces us to the world that the map describes... a world that is not fantasy old England or even Earth.  At part two, we leave back-story and really get into the main part of the story.  Dwarves, Wizards and, yes, dragons.

The world building is important to this story, but it's also good.  Despite the Merlin reference, this is not a reused fantasy world of others.  The dragons are not friendly or even sympathetic.  The dwarves are not overly talkative.  There are no elves in this story.   The dragon lore in this book is a very interesting take, and I find that I'm quite fond of this version.  I'll note that guile is used as a collective noun, as a herd of cows or murder of crows, but also implies a social structure.

After finishing the book and preparing this review, I found out that Morlock is a main character in some of James Enge's other books as well, meaning that this book is an origin story.  Here's the cool thing, besides being disappointed with the Merlin / Arthur tie-in, I didn't notice this was an origin story (and those are the best kind).

There are definitely parts of the story that are left unexplained.  Not plot holes, but points of resolution that I wish had been further explained.  Knowing that this character appears in other books, I find myself wondering if these are story points in other books, or things specifically being left for future books to explore.  It's a suspicion I would not have if this were a stand-alone book, but I feel it, so I felt I should mention it.

There is exactly one passage in this book that allows it to pass the Bechdel test, and it's singularity stuck out to me.  I don't think that I usually notice these things, but the one passage was distinct enough that it stuck out as being too lonely among many great opportunities for - you know - more simple exposition between two women.

Read this book if you are looking for a different fantasy space, and a male point of view.  Skip this book if an overly male point of view bothers you.  Honestly, this is the reason I'm not likely to seek out more books from this author.  The story telling is great, but it's almost all guys.


I bought this from a Pyr Publisher's booth at some convention in 2012 or '13.  I really can't remember which, but I do remember that one of the Publisher's reps recommended this book to me after asking me what other books I've liked.  It's been at least 5 years... I have so many books I haven't yet read.

A Guile of Dragons
Fantasy
Pyr imprint of Prometheus Books
Released: 24 August 2012
Softcover, 279 pages

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