Fantasy Round 52: The Crooked Way
This is the sequel to Blood of Ambrose, and much like the first book, it’s a wild ride. It explores many different applications of the setting’s magic, as well as questions about death and mortality.
I have a few (mostly spoiler-free) thoughts about the tale.
It’s Not About The Hero
Interestingly, this second novel in the series takes a step back from the tightly-connected narrative of the first novel. It is more like a sequence of related, self-contained short stories than a solid novel. While Morlock Ambrosius is involved in every story, and he is the thread that ties it all together, he’s not the most interesting character. The stories aren’t about his own self-aggrandizement or gathering power, and they aren’t even told from his point of view. Instead, we see the varying perspectives of the people he rescues, he befriends, who rescue him in turn, as well as those he hurts.
Those secondary characters are frequently more interesting than he is. I have two favorites from the cast. First are the Khroi — the insectoid dragon-riders, with their own strange culture and hierarchy. Gathenavalona, nursemaid to the soon-to-be-Mother, acts as the narrator to the overarching tale, with her own people’s perspective on Morlock’s adventures and their consequences.
I also enjoyed Rhabia, the entrepreneurial and pragmatic woman who appears near the end of the sequence. She’s no wizard, but her quick-wittedness and sharp retorts make me wish she had a bigger role.
Death and Mortality
The end of life comes up a lot in the tale, particularly given that one of Morlock’s goals is to put Viviana, his mother back together — so that she can die, and escape the torment of Merlin’s attempts to keep her alive forever.
There are many other deaths, due in no small part to the fact that Merlin has decided that Morlock must die, and doesn’t care who else perishes because of his schemes. Morlock, naturally, does care about the people Merlin kills — though his goal will end in his mother’s death, which Merlin seeks to prevent.
It’s a fascinating interplay, but I’m still trying to reconcile the silly and random parts of the plot. What am I supposed to think about the charming, animated skin of a woman who can’t follow a conversation and whose dying body is filled with maggots? The friendship that develops between characters in often in sharp contrast to the tasks they undertake.
Perhaps the idea is that death comes for us all, but that’s no reason to be so glum about it that we torment ourselves and others.