Before history began, the dwarves of Thrymhaiam fought against the dragons as the Longest War raged in the deep roads beneath the Northhold. Now the dragons have returned, allied with the dead kings of Cor and backed by the masked gods of Fate and Chaos.
The dwarves are cut cut off from the Graith of Guardians in the south. Their defenders are taken prisoner or corrupted by dragonspells. The weight of guarding the Northhold now rests on the crooked shoulders of a traitor’s son, Morlock syr Theorn (also called Ambrosius).
But his wounded mind has learned a dark secret in the hidden ways under the mountains. Regin and Fafnir were brothers, and the Longest War can never be over...
A Guile of Dragons will mark the return of the character Morlock Ambrosius for many readers, for me however, it was a new experience. I've yet to read James Enge's previous Morlock novels and since this new Tournament of Shadows series was a prequel to those books I decided to dive in here.
The book is broken into parts, with the first couple sections detailing Morlock's birth and his youth. It seemed out of place and had little to do with the story as a whole other than to introduce his father Merlin. Much of the first half of the book was disjointed and slow moving. It was a good example in the difference between a story starting at the beginning and one returning to it in a prequel as I could imagine readers already familiar with the characters finding more interest in the details here. Unfortunately, the story doesn't pick up much once Morlock is an adult, continuing to plod along.
Morlock, as a character, seems to have a great deal of hate for his birth father and often his adopted father. It is never really explained adequately, however, leaving it to the reader to make assumptions. For all the time taken in detailing certain events, that time could have been better spent elsewhere. As it stands, it seems like Morlock is broody for the sake of being broody.
A mixture of Enge's style of prose and focus on details that seem unimportant will keep some readers from being pulled into the story. The formal use of language can be quite boring, especially in dialogue when a story normally picks up the pace even when descriptions are tedious, which was not the case here with the story slowing to a crawl when characters interact. The handful of chapters that focus on a random character, sometimes one we have no knowledge of prior, instead of Morlock also throws off the pacing.
The world itself seemed to be experienced with blinders on, overly focusing on some details, but not fleshing out the world around the story enough. One never gets the sense that this is a big, full world of people, even when you assume it is. Cities seemed comprised of less people than some of the villages visited and with a significant amount of time spent focusing on a man wandering alone in the wilderness, that problem only grows.
Magic in the world, considering the Merlin angle, is somewhat rare. Perhaps the Guardians (or their leaders) are all mages of some sort, but it's not the sort of magic where wizards are shooting fireballs out of thin air. It takes the approach toward magic as a mystery, but again, it would have benefited from a bit more explanation, especially considering the readers is following a character as they learn. But, the mystical magic approach does benefit the story, and seems to fit with how many readers might picture a character they know from outside this novel like Merlin.
Enge does offer his own spin on traditional fantasy races such as dwarves, dragons and even humans, making their history and culture somewhat interesting and unique even if you're very familiar with the races and creatures from other fantasy stories. Again, sometimes details are vague in certain aspects, perhaps assuming the reader has knowledge of Enge's societies from his prior work.
If you have not read Enge's previous novels about Morlock, I would not recommend starting here, despite this being his origin. I would imagine readers that have loved his prior work and want to know more about Morlock would enjoy this, but as this novel stands on its own, I can't recommend it. Perhaps I set myself up for this experience by deciding to read this novel first, and I may return to Enge and read Blood of Ambrose, but for now it's not a world, character, or author I want to immediately revisit.