One thing I have learned throughout my many years of reading fantasy novels is that the book in question had better knock my socks off, because I am not a huge fan of fantasy. That being said, let me introduce you to the latest fantasy book to literally knock my socks off and had me coming back for more.
James Enge‘s debut novel, Blood of Ambrose, is definitely an Arthurian-inspired fantasy novel. However, Blood of Ambrose casts a dark pall over the brighter legends of King Arthur and focuses more on the actual essence of the characters in the book.
The young king-in-waiting Lathmar VII is a figurehead leader for the Ontilian Empire under the watchful eye of his grandmother, Ambrosia Vivian and the self-appointed Protector, Lord Urdhven. Lord Urdhven is more than the Protector and regent, however. He is also the murderer of Lathmar’s father, and after he arrests Ambrosia Vivian for treason there appears to be no one stop Urdhven from eventually taking the throne for himself. No one, that is, except for the drunkard and legendary wizard Morlock Ambrosius.
You get the feeling early on that Lathmar, unless he grows up in a hurry, is a detriment to both Vivian and Morlock as they struggle to keep him alive and in relative good health. Time and time again during the book I wished I was able to reach into the pages of the novel and strangle the young Lathmar for simply being a prat. After the tenth time or so of my blood pressure spiking to dangerous levels because of something Lathmar does was when I realized that Enge was a better author than I had initially gave him credit for. Enge surprised me and made me care about the story and the characters, something most fantasy authors fail to do while explaining their wonderful and fantastical world. By fueling my desire to see the death of young Lathmar ala George R.R. Martin, Enge helped build a strong emotional commitment to the book.
Blood of Ambrose is slick, weaving a dark tale of despair and death as our heroes struggle to save their kingdom and, as the book moves forward, the entire continent as a darker and far more dangerous adversary is revealed. Enge’s style is more show than tell and for Blood of Ambrose this works magically as the Two Cities of the Ontilian Empire seem to breathe life throughout the pages.
If there were any problems with the book, it was with the initial pages, which were filled with so much frantic energy that I was confused as I struggled to get my bearings straight. Once I knew who was who (and for the most part, easily pronounceable names), the story moved at a brisk pace. It seemed too soon when I reached the end, so well had Enge penned this barbaric and epic tale. I fully understand now why the book was recently nominated for Best Fantasy Book of the Year.
Definitely buy this book, and make sure you let Pyr Books know if you want to see more of Lathmar, Morlock Ambrosius and Vivian Ambrosia.
Reviewed by Jason