James Enge‘s second book of the “Morlock” series, This Crooked Way, begins exactly where the first one leaves off. This is both a good and bad thing for our intrepid hero, who is rewarded with the most typical reward from medieval politics.
After Morlock Ambrosius helps King Lathmar retain his throne (Blood of Ambrose), the boy king declares Morlock (on advice from his grandmother, who happens to be Morlock’s sister… how’s that for family love and bonding?) to be an enemy of the kingdom and expels him. Morlock, instead of being annoyed by the turn of events, agrees with the King and begins a dangerous trek to the wastes, where he can roam about without the eye of the crown upon him. But Morlock immediately finds himself being pursued by some unknown individual, who makes his life (and his companions, who come and go like a bad case of lice) miserable.
This Crooked Way is a confusing jaunt, shifting the point of view regularly and unapologetically. At times in the book one feels compelled to hurl it against the wall when you realize that you are no longer following the person you thought you had been reading about and questioning your sanity when the POV shifts from male to female without you noticing. It’s a reminder (albeit subtle) that just like real life, the world doesn’t revolve around one person. There are characters whose motivations I don’t even begin to grasp, and that was after reading the same scene multiple times. Other shifts from Morlock’s POV to others are sometimes oddly timed, as though they were originally elsewhere in the book.
Despite this, the story grabs you. The main antagonist has been following Morlock for years beyond memory, since the antagonist is older than even the nearly immortal Morlock himself. The conflict between the two is oftentimes subtle, as though Morlock is battling someone else while struggling to survive against the latest threat. It becomes strikingly clear who the antagonist is midway through the book, and from then on out it’s a tense cat-and-mouse game between Morlock and his greatest enemy, his own father Merlin.
The setting of the story is ranges from the hot, deserted plains to bustling cities to the snowy peaks of the mountains, and in each Enge paints a vivid and lively picture of our hero struggling to survive and, in the end, thrive. For as we discovered in Blood of Ambrose, conflict seems to bring out the best (and worst) of Morlock Ambrosius. In this essence the author captures just how lonely Morlock is throughout, showing that while his companions get married, age and eventually die, Morlock is forced to endure. It’s a haunting message (in my opinion) about the downside of long life and immortality.
Plus, Enge just writes one hell of an action sequence when Merlin almost catches Morlock at one point. That alone is good enough to move the reader past the grim and depressing chapters of our hero watching everybody from his enemies to his friends and allies leave him, betray them and try (unsuccessfully I might add) to kill him.
A good read, though a bit of a let down after reading Blood of Ambrose. It holds up to its predecessor well enough, but it does leave some to be desired. I have this on my “must buy” list, however, and I am now eagerly awaiting the third book of the series, The Wolf Age.
Reviewed by Jason