BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Following the events of the Dragon-Dwarf War, the religious nation of Kaen is the battleground in the continued conflict between the Ambrosii and the Gods of Fate and Chaos.
PROS: Strong fusion of sword & sorcery and epic fantasy.
CONS: Some parts do not mesh well together, leading to a less smooth reading experience
BOTTOM LINE: New characters and new conflicts deepen and to flesh out the origin story of Morlock.
Wrath-Bearing Tree is second in James Enge’s series A Tournament of Shadows, following A Guile of Dragons. The series serves as an origin story for his character Morlock Ambrosius (previously seen in A Blood of Ambrose, This Crooked Way and The Wolf Age)
Following the Dragon-Dwarf War (in A Guile of Dragons), the Graith of Guardians of the Wardlands, including Morlock, face a new threat. The nation of Kaen, to the east, has always been outside their remit, and always suspicious of outsiders besides. Their unusual ways of having individual Gods for every city is in stark contrast the protected lands to the west. However, when those city Gods start falling one by one, at least an investigation is required. Morlock, fresh from his own adventures in Kaen, is the obvious choice. Less obvious to join him is vocate Aloe Oaji, around whom the confident and laconic Morlock seems uncertain and awkward.
The sword and sorcery versus epic fantasy tension found in A Guile of Dragons continues here, yet shows some new twists. But the base of the novel is still sword and sorcery, and a travelogue at that. The adventures of Morlock and Aloe as they range across Kaen is by turns funny, poignant and thoughtful. The episodic nature of their travels is reminiscent of This Crooked Way, as the pair deal with a variety of strange cities and locales across the landscape with even stranger customs and Gods. It reads much like Leiber mixed with Vance, with more than a dash of Tolkien, and a charm and style all Enge’s own.
Wrath-Bearing Tree also introduces Morlock’s one body twin-sisters and his father. Add in the aforementioned gods (large and small), demons, odd inventions, and more…and it seems like a bit too many elements that are not always successfully integrated together. But even a slightly overstuffed Enge novel is erudite, funny, and enormously entertaining. And unlike too many middle volumes in series, this novel does far more than simply mark time. In that respect, the novel reinforces that sword and sorcery chassis. Wrath-Bearing Tree is an excellent middle volume in an exciting series from and accomplished author.