CSFF Blog Tour-Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard, Day 3


merlinsbladeAs 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.

CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard, Day 2


Druids_CircleGood versus evil. That’s what fantasy is all about–its central trope. The Arthurian myth is no different, but it complicates things. Noble King Arthur must choose whether he is to live and govern by the principles of right he has established in his kingdom or whether he is to “make an exception” for those in his personal life.

Robert Treskillard in Merlin’s Blade, first in the Merlin Spiral Trilogy, carries on the good versus evil theme, but he addresses good and evil from both a societal and a supernatural point of view. The real battle is between the druids (and their practices often carried out in a circle such as the one pictured above) and the Christians–for control over life in Britain and over the lives of its people.

The conflict is fanciful since little is known about the druids apart from myth–fitting since King Arthur is also not a firmly established historical person, nor is Merlin. However, the clash between druids and Christians is believable, both on a societal level and a spiritual one.

In society, Christianity was the religion imposed on the conquered people of the Holy Roman Empire. I liken this to the Jewish nation ruled by kings professing belief in Yahweh, the One True God. Under their first king, Saul, witchery and sorcery were outlawed–and yet, the witch of Endor survived, apparently living in secret and not practicing her dark arts, unless cajoled into doing so by one promising her she would be safe from the penalties of the law. Clearly, sorcery was not eradicated by an edict from the king.

So, too, in the Britain of Merlin’s Blade. Those not in power bide their time and wait for an opportunity to reassert their influence, to reposition themselves for a climb to the top.

Spiritually, this power grab is a result of the evil forces, the false gods, which the druids worship and which control them through fear and intimidation.

The druidic power is real in Merlin’s Blade, and no less mysterious. When the priest who would rule first addresses the people of Merlin’s village, he says

. . . to call you back to the old way. To call you as lost children back to the only way your ancestors knew–they who claimed this wooded land as their own and coaxed forth crops from the soil . . . Your ancestors call you back to worship the old gods–the guides, the healers, those who bless your fields and cattle, who protect you from witchcraft and guard your children against the wailing sidhe, the gods who are furious at your obstinacy.

Since I equated druids with witchcraft, the above lines caught me off guard. The “sidhe” mentioned in those lines is “the Irish term for a supernatural race in Irish mythology and Scottish mythology, (usually spelled Sìth, however pronounced the same) comparable to the fairies or elves” (Wikipedia).

This suggests a layering of evil–fairies and witches that people fear, topped by a pantheon of gods who will protect their worshipers from those beings. The latter have a special hatred for the Christian God, his son Jesu, and his followers.

When the druid priest shows up with his power, he successfully seduces some to forsake their belief in the God of Rome and to follow the ancient gods of their homeland. It’s an appeal to ethnic pride, a repudiation of Rome, but also, and more convincingly, a plea to embrace the power gifted by the gods to an idol and its priest.

In all this, the question hangs unspoken–does the Christian God have power to counter the druids? Or is He limited to the work of His servants? It’s a timeless question, one people could well ask today by replacing “druids” with any number of other people standing against God. How can human followers of Christ stand against the forces marshaled against Him? The corollary is this: can Christians count on God when they call on Him in times of crisis? And the follow-up question: what’s the difference between trusting God to save and ordering God to save or trying to manipulate Him into it?

Merlin’s Blade raises questions for anyone willing to consider the good and evil conflict at the heart of the story. It’s one of the strengths of the story, as far as I’m concerned, but I’ll get to that tomorrow in my review.

For now, I suggest you see what other CSFF Blog Tour participants writing about Merlin’s Blade have to say. Especially, don’t miss Timothy Hicks’s interview with Robert.

And don’t forget, anyone leaving a comment to the Day 1 post will be entered into the drawing for an ARC.

CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard, Day 1


Robert_TreskillardIt’s always fun for me when CSFF features a book by one of our members. Robert Treskillard has been a part of the Blog Tour since its early days, supporting other writers and discussing books we highlight. Now we get to do that for him. His debut novel, Merlin’s Blade, is the first in the Merlin Spiral Trilogy, published under Zondervan’s new young adult imprint, Blink.

All this brings so much to my mind–the growing popularity of young adult novels, not just with teens but with adults, the unique goals of the new Blink line, and of course, Robert himself. Who is this man who wrote another story in a long line of tales derived from the Arthurian myth?

I think, for readers like me, I need to address one other question which the last one in the previous paragraph alludes to: do we actually need yet one more tale about Arthur and company? Some people, of course, are huge fans of the Arthurian legend and can immerse themselves in the numerous novels and movies and TV shows. Others of us tend more toward Arthurian weariness (I’m sorry, all you dedicated, loyal Arthur fans–it’s just the way it is).

I cut my teeth on Arthur on a Classic Comic of Idylls of the King. Later my high school produced Camelot a year or two before the musical by the same name hit the big screen. I’ve seen many other productions and read any number of other versions of the myth, or portions of it, since then, to the point that I began to think there couldn’t possibly be another new slant, take, interpretation, or approach to the story.

Surprise! Robert found one.

It’s interesting to read a story that has such familiar elements and yet be surprised when they pop up. For much of Merlin’s Blade I was reading as if the book was about someone else named Merlin, not the famous Merlin everyone knows from the Arthur stories.

And when parts of the legend did appear, I still was left guessing how they would congeal with the story unfolding before me and with the aspects of the legend with which I was familiar. In short, from the early pages, Merlin’s Blade had me off center, offering me a story I didn’t expect.

In the end, my Arthurian myth weariness played no part in my reaction to Merlin’s Blade. In much the same way that Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes books upset my thinking about angel books, Robert’s story has upset my thinking about Arthur myth novels. And that’s what good books do.

I’ll have much more to say about the book, but I recommend you visit the blogs of others participating in the tour and see what they think. I’m looking forward to making the rounds myself.

Oh, one more important thing. I have an Advance Reading Copy to give away during the tour. Anyone interested may leave a comment to this post, and I’ll draw for the winner on Friday. In addition, Robert has a REAL contest running in conjunction with all of the books in the trilogy. You might take a look at his intro blog post announcing it.

Here are the other CSFFers participating in the tour this month. Once again check marks will link you to a CSFF tour-related article.

What Makes A Speculative Book “Christian”?


Recently in an email group I belong to, the question came up about Christian speculative fiction not being so very Christian. A good number are set in a fantasy world or on a planet far, far away, and the “faith elements” seem more nearly aligned with mythology or the occult than with Christianity. So how is it they are Christian?

As I think about that question, C. S. Lewis’s great novel Til We Have Faces comes to mind. This story, perhaps his best, is a retelling of the Greek myth Cupid and Psyche. And yet it is one of the most spiritually truthful books I’ve ever read.

One reviewer described the book as “a compelling story of Love, and Love’s imitators (desire, dependency, etc.)” (excerpt from “Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis“).

I think that line encapsulates the point of the story.

Lewis hardly needs to make the connections for us — God is love, so this story about another place and pretend gods, is actually about Him. In other words, some of the heavy lifting should come from the reader.

In sum, one must expect that Till We Have Faces will make slightly heavier demands than Lewis’s earlier stories. It requires more alertness, more involvement in the narrative process, more willingness to become informed so that material will be meaningful. It requires, then, an adult level of reading (which, it must be added, some people reach at a very early age, and others never reach), but it will yield, therefore, adult-level understandings of Lewis, of life, and of oneself. (excerpt from Reason and Imagination in C. S. Lewis by Peter Schakel

Speculative fiction seems to come in three classes — that which deals with the supernatural identified in Scripture, that which portrays truth through allegory, and that which uses symbolism and suggestion to illuminate the spiritual.

All three have their danger points. How much speculation should a writer engage in when the topic is angels and demons — beings which actually exist?

How unavoidably predictable is allegory, turning deep matters of faith into boring platitudes?

And finally, what happens when an author trusts the reader to make symbolic connections, and they don’t?

My friend Sally Apokedak, in the same discussion I mentioned, pointed out that all Christian fiction has the same burden — telling the truth through story in an engaging way. In many ways a contemporary story is harder to meet all the obligations of Christian fiction.

It can be too predictable or cheesy or so oblique that the “faith elements” seem tacked on. The need for all stories is to wrap the story around the them in such an organic way that the two can’t be separated.

Speculative fiction is no different.

Is it possible someone will miss who Aslan is or who the God of the Mountain is? Or who the returning king is, in The Lord of the Rings? Yes, it is possible. That’s a risk, granted.

Is it possible that people reading The Last Battle will decide to worship a donkey instead of The Lion? Yes, that’s possible, too, just as it’s possible for someone to sit in church Sunday after Sunday and never turn to Christ.

Reading is a synergistic experience. The writer puts meaning into his story and the reader takes away from the book what matters to him. The writer has no control over what the reader will end up doing with the story in front of him.

The Christian writer needs to exercise trust. The first and most important object of trust is in God and what He will do with the work we’ve committed to Him.

The other object of trust is the reader. If the writer has done his job and we believe God can and will use what we give to Him, can we not then trust the reader to do the job of reading well?

So what makes a speculative book Christian? Truth — spiritual truth, whether it is symbolic or overt.

Published in: on March 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm  Comments (4)  
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