A Guile of Dragons – James Enge

About the book

It’s dwarves vs dragons in this origin story for Enge’s signature character, Morlock Ambrosius!

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…

320 pages (paperback)
Published in August, 2012
Published by Pyr
Author’s webpage

This book was sent for review by the publisher.

You can purchase this book by clicking on the following link: (Amazon)


When I get books in the mail I usually read the back and then stack them in the order I want to read them. Occasionally, the back of books gets me very excited and I start reading said book right away, only realizing later that the book is actually part of a series that I’ve never read. Well, that was the case in A Guile of Dragons. It was only after I had finished this book that I realized that it was part of a series. If I had read the series, I might have been more attached and invested in the characters. As it was, A Guile of Dragons was a great read for someone who (ignorantly) dove into the Morlock Ambrosius waters without knowing that there was more to the character and the series than this one book.

I’m telling you all of that so you know that my review may be colored by the fact that this is the only Enge book I’ve read.

A Guile of Dragons starts with an interesting dialogue between two godlike characters, which immediately reminded me of K.J. Parker. Parker is a master of weaving humor into important scenes in his/her books. Enge has that same skill, as this dialogue is setting up an important sequence of events, but it also is sure to make people who enjoy dry humor pleased and promises an entertaining, if somber book to follow.

While most of A Guile of Dragons focuses on the character Morlock Ambrosius, there are some alternative points of view. One perspective is that of his mother as she is pregnant with Morlock. This was, perhaps, one of the most confusing parts of the book, and I wonder if it would have been confusing if I’ve read other books in the series. Enge jumps time and place during this portion of the tale, and while he is good with telling the reader that time is fluid and etc, readers (like myself) might be slightly confused about exactly what is going on. However, Enge does is firmly establish that A Guile of Dragons piggybacks off of many Arthurian legends. For example, one of the secondary characters (yet an incredibly important reason why certain things happen) is Merlin. Yes, the Merlin from the tales we have all been told.

Despite some confusion regarding time and place, the book doesn’t suffer. In fact, the plot and characters are so strong, tight and interesting that any confusion the reader may have will be easily overlooked. While A Guile of Dragons deals with typical fantasy tropes like dwarves who live underground and make things, and dragons which are fearsome to behold, he somehow manages to keep his book fresh and invigorating. He fills it with unique places and cultures, complete with prejudice  and a long, tangled history. Yes, dragons and dwarves are very Tolkan-esque fantasy elements, and they might seem overdone to some, but Enge’s plot is so refreshing and his world is so layered, it really doesn’t matter.

Morlock himself is an awkward character, and this is one of the things that makes him so captivating. He’s incredibly intelligent, but his intelligence is balanced with a very uncomfortable demeanor. Though, what else would you expect from a human who never really knew his birth parents and was raised in the mountains with the dwarves? He is both hard to understand and easy to become frustrated with. This, however, just makes him all the more enigmatic and intriguing. He is the product of his childhood, and Enge keeps his character very realistic regarding that. It may take some time to warm up to Morlock, but the reader eventually will.

The plot is quick moving; readers might just have to swallow some confusion along the way. Coupled with Enge’s fantastic prose, the pages will probably turn themselves. A Guile of Dragons isn’t long, but it is quite amazing to see how much the author packed into its pages – from incredible world building, to fantastic (if haunted) characters, complex history and some traditional fantasy elements that will put readers in the mind of the fantasy greats. A Guile of Dragons truly proves that a book doesn’t need to be so heavy it breaks your floorboards to be epic. A Guile of Dragons is a promising start to a complex new epic fantasy series.


4/5 stars

5 Responses

  • I have read the first two Morlock books, Blood of Ambrose and and they are both not only self-contained but also rather episodic in nature themselves, parts of them having originally been published as stories. Guile of Dragons is, I believe, James Enge’s first “proper” novel, and I’m glad to hear that it apparently turned out well (I admit I was worried a bit), as I liked the earlier volumes a lot – he manages to breathe fresh wind into the Sword & Sorcery genre, and does so in a quite unique manner, that sets itself apart by its irony and wry humour as well as a bizarre imagination. He’s probably closest to Fritz Leiber but what he does is very much his own thing, and I found it highly enjoyable.

    • BookwormBlues

      He does have quite an imagination. Honestly, I’m kind of surprised this book isn’t getting far more attention than it has. I plan on reading other books by Enge. I really enjoy his unique style. I think he is an author I could really get into.

      • I think maybe because this is a prequel that its not getting the love it deserves. Even if, as Heloise correctly points out, the books are very stand alone.

  • Guile of Dragons is the first in a prequel series. This, and the two follow on books tale place well before _Blood of Ambrose_, _This Crooked Way_, and _Wolfs Age_.

    • BookwormBlues

      I really want to read more of his other books. I didn’t realize this one was a prequel before I read it.

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