Book Review: The Wide World’s End
by James Enge
“A lecturer at the Lyceum,” a wise old savant tells Morlock Ambrosius in The Wide World’s End, the concluding volume in Enge’s “Tournament of Shadows” trilogy, “has a theory that they are colonists, making the world habitable for their form of life. Another thinks it’s pure malice.” To which Morlock replies, “I know someone who says … it’s a kind of idealism. They are opposed to biological life in principle.”
The “they” in question here are beings called the Sunkillers, who are threatening to wipe out all life in the realms of Enge’s vividly-imagined and fast-paced trilogy detailing the “origin” of his main character Morlock Ambrosius, master itinerant swordsman, son of Merlin, and his mist-shrouded age’s most dangerous man. Readers of previous two novels in this series, A Guile of Dragons and Wrath-Bearing Tree, have followed Morlock’s sword-and-sorcery adventures replete with dwarfs and dragons and shape-changing monsters, in which the Graith of Guardians fight to protect the wildness and freedom of the Wardlands against a horde of enemy forces enumerated sarcastically to Morlock at one point:
“If you’re not worried by a city of werewolves slowly dying of starvation, I suppose there’s no point in even mentioning the riptide of superpredators fleeing south in search of meat, the desperate gods afraid of losing their worshippers, the ice-monsters that rule the bitter northern edge of the world, or the Sunkillers from beyond it. So I won’t.”
Morlock Ambrosius is a fighting man; as The Wide World’s End‘s action steadily escalates, Enge’s skill at both sharp dialogue and white-knuckle action sequences – like a strangely effective combination of Michael Moorcock and David Drake – raises this final volume in the series to a fever pitch, and to a climactic scene in which Morlock and his companions are confronted by the goddess of death herself, who’s then confronted in turn:
Death held up her pale left hand. A mouth manifested there. Its dark lips replied, “Justice, there is a time for all things to end. This is that time. It is my time.”
“All times are mine,” Justice replied. “Your power overmatches theirs, and this offends me.”
“Justice, my beloved sister, you are among the weakest of all the Strange Gods, as I am the strongest. Do you think you can stand against me?”
“Then prepare yourself. But these mortals will die from witnessing our battle just as surely as they would from my blade. Look how they cower when we signify to each other!”
“I am not alone,” Justice signified.
Morlock strove to stand straight when he understood Death’s remark about cowering. As he did, he saw that the barren field had sprouted a shadowy crop of gods.
Something of this natural storytelling urgency filters down even to narrative’s less fraught moments, like when we get a description of our hero’s sword Tyrfing:
The blade was black as death, veined with bone-white crystal down its glittering length to its point. The grip was black and bound with something that felt smooth but comfortingly resistant to his hand. The sword had heft, but was lighter than a metal sword this long would be. There was a disturbing presence in the thing, not merely physical. There was a power in it …
There was a power in it could equally be said of this “Tournament of Shadows” trilogy, an excellent example of publisher Pyr’s excellent modern fantasy list. Readers of The Wide World’s End who come to it without having read the previous volumes will find themselves at sea – there are no glossaries or recapitulations, except for the bits and pieces Enge’s characters toss out in between desperate sword fights – but followers of the series will be immensely pleased. And newcomers can always hurry up and read the first two books.