Monday, April 14, 2008

"The Red Worm's Way" by James Enge from Return of the Sword

I'm already a fan of James Enge's stories about Morlock Ambrosius, a gnarled sorcerer whose magic seems largely to be the art of giving the semblance of life to golems... and their parts, though his knowledge of the world and its mysteries is also vast. In this tale, Morlock is down on his luck, and winds up sitting watch over a corpse to protect it from flesh eating creatures, some of whom might be the very townspeople who hired him to sit watch.

It's impossible to be impartial here, as a new Morlock tale was one of my chief points of interest in the book. See, I'm partial to the sorcerers. Even given the dark fates most sword and sorcery mages meet, I'd still go with the sorcerers if I were ever sucked down the magic vortex. Even as a skeptic, I've always quested for a sign of the supernatural. Maybe that's why fantasy has so much appeal. Enge's Morlock stories provide an excellent foil to the warrior tales so far in this volume. Where it's refreshing to have a hero who thinks his way out of trouble, like Sigurd from Jeff Stewart's "Mountain Scarab, with Morlock, all he has is his mind.

Any time magic is involved, the rules become an issue. James does a great job of establishing the kinds of things Morlock can do, just a twist of magic, without making Morlock a demigod. The world also benefits from the deft writing, plumbing historical periods and myths a bit off the beaten path. This particular story has a bit of italian flavor, and I get the sense in general that Morlock's world is roughly European, after the fall of the roman empire. It's a fantasy world, but this story has a rustic, old-world feel. The magic provides an extra layer of surprise, and as with other Morlock stories there are some pleasant switchbacks at the end of this one, particularly the crow coin. ;)

One great thing James does in this story, is deliver elements of Morlock's history, without telling us all the details. This let's us see into Morlock's motivations, while still giving him an aura of mystery, keeping the reader wondering about the "rest" of the story. I'm really hoping to see a Morlock collection or novel someday. I already see that knowing more of Morlock's past won't spoil these stories, it will enhance them.

For my money, Morlock the Maker is one of the truly iconic characters to emerge from the current struggling renaissance of swords and sorcery fiction. This story is another strong reason to pick up Return of the Sword.

Buy the book! The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
James Enge's site, full of Morlockian goodnessEE Knight's Announcement
A Review
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