Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blood of Ambrose by James Enge

Blood of Ambrose is the book for my science fiction bookgroup this month. Young King Lathmar VII is ruler in name only of the Ontilian Empire. The late Emperor’s brother-in-law, and likely murderer, Lord Urdhven, appoints himself Protector to his nephew but he is no benevolent uncle. He sets out to kill anyone who tries to get between him and the King, but it is generally understood that the King will be the final victim and Urdhven can crown himself Emperor. Lathmar calls Ambrosia his grandmother to simplify the fact that she is several hundred years old so he’s not really certain what her actual title might be. Ambrosia sends Lathmar out to find her brother Morlock, but he is somewhat inept and is soon caught and returned to the castle. Ambrosia is tried as a witch and sentenced to trial by combat.

As Urdhven has conveniently had both of her hands broken, it is up to the local murder of crows to deliver Ambrosia’s message to her exiled brother. Morlock—stateless person, master of all magical makers, deadly swordsman, recovering alcoholic—arrives just in time to save her, sort of. Together, Morlock and Ambrosia try in their own ways to get Lathmar to mature into the ruler they really don’t hold a lot of hope that he can be. In the face of Urdhven’s continuous, and mysteriously backed, efforts to regain control of the kingdom, Lathmar needs to find strength and conviction to rule in his own stead.

If this sounds long and drawn out, it is and it was. I like fantasy and maybe I’m such a fangirl of GRRM that I tend to view all fantasy through that lens but this was not a terribly enjoyable story for me. There was a little too much going on a little soon and I really felt like I had been dropped into the middle of a long running series.

There were numerous brief mentions of VERY IMPORTANT things that had gone on in the past to make the characters the way they were but little or no follow through to engage the reader. There were footnotes about phases of the three moons of this world which pointed you to an appendix in the back where you found this: “The novel begins on 25 Remembering, A.U. 330. It ends on 18 Cymbals, A.U. 333. 48th Ring, A.U. 330: Year of the Hunter”. A list of similar entries follows, none of which I remember reading anything about in the book. I’m happy to see such thoroughness in world building, but there is no note or explanation about why these things should be important to the reader.

There were many parts in the book which I understood were intended to be amusing, but it was a stretch. And plus, IMHO, a book cannot be a comedy when it involves a dead, rotting demon-possessed baby giving orders to its undead army from atop the carcass of a dog with four human feet and a human face sewn on to it. I am not averse to dead, rotting demon-possessed babies in my fiction, but the attempts at humor along with that didn’t ring true for me and, truthfully, felt a bit bipolar. I like a bit of morbid merriment along with the best of them (take Greg Kihn’s Horror Show or Army of Darkness) but the novel just felt like two stories unsuccessfully merged. I hate to say it, but I’ll have to pass on future novels if this is a series.

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