Review: Blood of Ambrose by James Enge

122. Blood of Ambrose by James Enge
Publication: Pyr (April 21, 2009), Paperback, 401pp / ISBN 1591027365
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Teen
Rating:
Read: May 25-26, 2010
Source: BookMooch
Summary from Indiebound:

The late Emperor’s brother-in-law and murderer, Lord Urdhven, appoints himself Protector to his nephew, young King Lathmar VII, and sets out to kill anyone who stands between himself and mastery of the Empire.

Review

I’ve had this book on my BookMooch wishlist for a while now, but I honestly can’t remember where I heard of it or why it was on there. Luckily I went ahead and grabbed it before someone else did, and, like many other impulse decisions of mine, it turned out to be the right course of action.

Blood of Ambrose is a different sort of Arthurian book in that it focuses mostly on Merlin and his legacy, specifically his three children and how they change the course of history of the world they live in. Arthur never appears directly, and I’m pretty sure he’s not even mentioned once, but there are hints of him wafting around and one could make an argument that the young king Lathmar is a sort of Arthur.

We don’t even really see much of Merlin (who’s a jerk), but instead we get a lot of his kids and of the people that surround them. This is actually a good thing, because they’re really interesting people, and their characters are so full of depth that this first book barely even plumbs anything about them except some surface stuff. I love complex characters with multiple motivations, and though sometimes the characters in Blood of Ambrose list towards the more trope-y side of things I really enjoyed reading about them. Lathmar and Morlock and their relationship are particularly fun to follow through the story, and I love how Lathmar grows as a person. If you compare the Lathmar from the first page to the Lathmar of the last, there’s a definite change (and improvement).

The plot is one of my favorites, with lots of treachery and uber-villains and whatnot. It’s very Shakespearean, and James Enge’s writing is lush enough to back up my claim (although there aren’t nearly as many weddings or swordfights as Shakespeare’s plays do). It does suffer from that “and then a lot of time lapsed between the last chapter and this one” thing that I hate, but moving time forward in big leaps allows two things: it keeps the book shorter (which is good, because no matter how much I love intrigue it does get tiresome after a while– see this series) and it keeps things moving quickly.

I will say that the pacing seems a bit off in some parts, most notably right before the last sequence, when Lathmar falls in love with a chambermaid and has several scenes trying to figure out how to woo her. It’s a cute subplot, and it shows Lathmar’s growth emotionally (and otherwise), but it also keeps the action from moving forward and I wish it had been cut out or something. I’ve read in other reviews that people also had a problem with the humorous bits that showed up between particularly gore-y bits, but I didn’t have any problem with that myself. I thought it was almost a sort of gallows humor that soldiers who’ve been fighting a long time tend to use– you can’t be serious all the time, not even when zombies are knocking at your door and your entire kingdom might collapse because of one childish baddie. Jokes make things easier to bear, I think.

Anyway, other than some pacing issues, I was enormously pleased with Blood of Ambrose, and how it managed to be Arthurian without relying on strict adherence to the myth. There’s a lot of interesting symbolism in it, too, which I could have a lot of fun picking apart for a school paper. It’s just a really rich story, one that’s fun to read and that doesn’t get bogged down in word count. If you’re a fan of Arthurian stories or just exciting, action-heavy fantasy ones, I highly recommend reading Blood of Ambrose!

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Other reviews: Fantasy Book Critic (+) | A Dribble of Ink (-) | BSC Review (+) | King of the Nerds (+) | The Great Geek Manual (+)

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