Review of Wrath-bearing Tree: A Tournament of Shadows Book Two by James Enge (Pyr paperback August 13, 2013)
Morlock Ambrosius has an adventure on his own in Kaen, a land of strange religions, when the ship he is traveling on is destroyed by fire attacks from the Kaen coast. After he makes his way back to the Wardlands, he is sent off on a ship again, but this time Aloê, the girl Morlock thinks he likes, is assigned to captain the ship. She grew up on the water and so is very much at home on a boat, but Morlock gets seasick, so he isn’t sure whether to be pleased or mortified that Aloê is on the mission with him.
Aloê and Morlock end up in Kaen on their own so it becomes an adventure in young adult relationships, which moves on to an adventure in sexual relationships and how one partner can be helped through damage done by previous sexual violence if they find the right understanding partner. The two get separated, but eventually meet up again and encounter members of Morlock’s family whom he has never met because they were banished from the land as punishment when Morlock was an infant. This is why he was raised by the dwarves.
The characters of Merlin and Morlock’s sisters are developed in this volume and their reactions to discovering Morlock is life partnered to Aloê by feeling how their magics are entangled is quite amusing. Morlock’s and Aloê’s relationship changes and takes on new dimensions as they share secrets and passions. Morlock seems immature at the start but once he discovers she isn’t perfect either, the relationship soon moves from slightly confused to very confident and adult. They are still journeying at the end of this volume so hopefully there will not be a long wait for volume 3.
This story is hero-journey fantasy at its best. The setting is interesting, complex, and has vast numbers of cultural groups that Morlock can travel through and encounter. Some of the characters have familiar sounding names but Enge’s versions are very unique. The dwarves’ society, their psychology, and the relationship with dragons are fascinating. The explanations of magic are also not your average fantasy trope. Magic is bound up with the essence of who a person is and is bound up with their inner energy and the place they reach when deeply focused. It reminded me of Asian meditation techniques employed to center and calm oneself. Morlock understands himself, Aloê and the universe so completely that his ability to make magical items and use magic is far beyond anything attempted by any of the others from the Graith.
There are sex scenes in this book, some of them quite detailed but only in places relevant to the plot and they are realistic and don’t have the characters doing physically impossible things. Definitely this is an adult book for very mature teens and adults. This is the second book in the series, following A Guile of Dragons, but the adventures share characters and have independent plots so if you get volume 2 first it’s not really a problem.