Monday, June 8, 2009

James Enge - Blood of Ambrose (Book Review)

"Blood of Ambrose" (Amazon: UK, US)
Format: Paperback, 401 pages
Publisher: Pyr (April 21, 2005)
Like "Midwinter" by MATTHEW STURGES, "Blood of Ambrose" is a novel with a promising blurb and an appealing cover, but it took some time for me to convince myself to pick it up and start reading. Even then, I regarded the first few characters with skepticism: sure, they showed promise, but so did the opening chapters of "Midwinter" and look what those have lead to... Luckily, "Blood of Ambrose" is - among other things - much more coherent than Midwinter, and the opening chapters do not charm the reader in order to make up for a disappointment he will experience later, but rather lead him into a story about a child-king, growing up in a restless age of riots and uprisings.

John from Grasping for the Wind described the plot as "Lathmar's capture, rescue, recapture and rescue again", which correctly describes the gist of it, but there’s more to the story than just the adventures of the little King. "Blood of Ambrose" is an action-packed fantasy, which, despite seeming to revolve around the boy-king Lathmar, actually focuses more on Lathmar’s grown-up ‘assistants’ and his distant relatives: his ‘grandmother’ Ambrosia, her brother, the notorious Mordock, and his apprentice, who all fight Lathmar’s war in order to bring peace back to his kingdom. There is still a lot of focus on Lathmar’s adventures, though, which makes "Blood of Ambrose" a nice blend of YA and fantasy – the not-too-serious narrating tone prevents "Blood of Ambrose" to sound too bleak or ominous when regarding some of the graver events like the uprising of the ‘zombies’ and the painful past of the Ambrosii (i.e. Mordock and Ambrosia). At the same time, we get a pretty realistic picture of Lathmar as a boy: he hardly knows what the grown-ups are talking about half of the time, he has no special skills except for those which are more or less common in his family and his perception is, at times, rather naïve.

Some reviews claim that "Blood of Ambrose" lacks characterization, but I disagree. Sure, there is a lot of unused potential to the characters, but we get to know their main personality traits and since we view them mostly from Lathmar's perspective I think it's only logical that they all seem a bit mysterious and distant – after all, these are the basic attributes of an adult viewed from a child's perspective. There are also a lot of little tidbits of characters' pasts, which implies that we'll get to know them even better in the sequel, This Crooked Way (personally, I suspect that Mordock will appear there as the main character).

"Blood of Ambrose" has other problems, though – what I missed most was humour. There were some attempts at it, but I just didn't find them amusing enough. There were maybe two or three really humorous moments, but mostly, it just seemed as though there were a lot of little holes in the flow of narration or dialogue which should be filled with humour but were, for some reason, left empty.

At times, parts of the story are simply left unfinished, such as the part where Lathmar falls in love and then never mentions or remembers that again. What bothered me as well were the parts with Hope, who only appears a few times; her relationship with Ambrosia could use some more detail and overall complexity. Also, how come Morlock is still confused by the signature in her note to him, when he received a farewell from her just before that? Such small things make the book look unfinished, which is never good.

These flaws aside, "Blood of Ambrose" is still more than a decent debut with a nice, flowing style, intriguing characters and a unique idea. Its ending led me to expect that we'll see a great deal more of Ambrosii in the sequel, and I look forward to it.

---(4 out of five EvilFruitcakes)

1 Comment:

Jam said...

Interesting book. I might read it. Definitely going to my TBR pile.


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