As I have of late, I’ve reserved this third day of the CSFF Blog Tour for my review of our feature–this month, Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard.
The Story. Merlin is near-blind, with facial scars–hard circumstances for a teen. What’s worse, he becomes the subject of bullying by the Magister’s n’er-do-well sons. His one friend, an orphaned boy living with the monks in the abbey, opens the door to trouble when he “borrows” a wagon to help them complete their errands. On the way home, he stops to investigate who might be roasting chicken in the woods. Soon the whole village learns what the two boys encountered—a druid priest and a rock of mysterious power capable of seducing or harming those who look into the glow shining from within.
Strengths. Merlin is the first strength of this story. He is a winsome character, in part because of his selfless qualities. When protecting his little step-sister from a pack of wolves, he ended up with scars that cover his face and with the loss of most of his vision. He’s not a whiner though, and works hard to do his share to help his blacksmith father. He’s also loyal and sacrificial. When his friend is condemned to be whipped for stealing the wagon, Merlin steps in and takes the punishment for him.
The other characters in the story are well drawn and believable, as is Merlin, but I connected with him right away and therefore cared what happened to him from the start.
The second great strength of the book is that it weaves in a familiar myth without calling attention to it. For most of the book it was easy to think I was simply reading a story about a teen boy set in Medieval England, not a story about the wizard of the Arthurian legend. At the same time, the history and setting seemed so true. I wasn’t ever weighed down with facts or description, but I felt as if I was transported to a time in England when political unrest was married to spiritual confusion.
The third great strength in Merlin’s Blade is the exciting story. The central conflict is a power struggle between a druidic priest and the followers of Jesu. Each person in Merlin’s village must take a stand. And when the high king arrives, it becomes clear that the druids plan to take back all of England for the ancient gods they serve. Merlin, of course, takes a central role in the events.
The fourth great strength arises naturally from who Merlin is and from the conflict driving the story. I’m thinking of the many truths embedded within the story–never preached, but lived out by the characters. One such truth is shown in Merlin’s near-blindness which actually protects him from the lure of the stone. God’s Word teaches us that when we are weak, then we are strong.
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Cor. 12:9)
Whether this was an intentional truth woven into the story, I don’t know because it wasn’t one preached by any of the characters. Merlin simply had a weakness that became the saving strength. Other themes are handled in the same way.
I’ll add one more strength. The story is well written. I marveled at how well I could “see” the world despite the fact that for the most part the story was told from half-blind Merlin’s point of view. There was the richness of other sensory details, but Robert also found ways of including visual description that felt innovative and yet completely true to the character and the circumstances.
Now that you’ve read the long version, here’s my opinion in short: Merlin’s Blade is a masterful story, well told. Robert completely disarmed me of my prejudices against reading another story derived from the Arthurian legend. Fantasy–not just Christian fantasy–is richer because of this book. Which, I’m happy to say, is the first in a trilogy. Book two, Merlin’s Shadow, is due out this fall.
Weaknesses. I’m pretty much bypassing “weaknesses.” Anything I put would be picky and forced. Some people thought the book started slow. I didn’t. Some people thought the prologue was confusing. I did too, until I remembered that prologues are either about a different character or a different time. This prologue was vital, as it turns out, and makes complete sense later–just not at first. A plot point or two might have had some small weakness, but they aren’t worth mentioning. I doubt most readers would consider anything amiss, or care, if they did. (I’m in the latter group).
Recommendation. Merlin’s Blade is a must read for fans of the Arthurian legend and for fantasy fans of all stripes. This trilogy could be considered an important contribution to the historical/myth fantasy genre. I also highly recommend this one to any readers who love a good story. The target audience is young adult, but the book easily spans the gap between twelve and adult.
I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book as part of the CSFF Blog Tour in exchange for my honest review.