Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1

"The Achievement of the Grail" (1891-4) Tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones, Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham

“The Achievement of the Grail” (1891-4) Tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones, Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham

How gullible are people? How willing to believe a newcomer capable of working marvelous deeds? These questions are central to Martyr’s Fire, third in the Merlin’s Immortals series by Sigmund Brouwer.

Part of me would like to say, people are skeptical enough and wary enough that they wouldn’t be swayed from truth to falsehood by magic tricks. On the other hand, I’m well aware of a general desire for “signs” as proof of the truth of a thing.

For example, people in Jesus’s day were asking Him for signs that would prove He was the Messiah. And today isn’t so very different. How many news accounts have aired about people lining up for blocks to pray before a window stain in the shape of Christ or a tortilla chip in the form of the Virgin Mary?

It would seem that people are inclined to believe signs that align with their already held beliefs. Consequently, the people in Jesus’s day were looking for signs suited to an all powerful conquering king. They were looking for someone who would bring an end to Rome’s rule over Israel.

People praying to a stain or a bit of tortilla already believe in praying to images. For them, the appearance of the image in an unexpected place and time is a miracle, an evidence of God’s presence and willingness to hear and answer prayer.

The opposite also seems to be true–people without a prior inclination to believe will be hard to convince. When Moses stood before Pharaoh and first asked him to let the people of Israel go to worship their God, he performed several signs–the ones God had implemented when He told Moses he was to free Israel. Rather than responding with belief, however, Pharaoh was skeptical and hard-hearted.

In fact, he had his own magicians replicate a number of Moses’s signs. He was not quick to believe because Moses was producing signs to verify something Pharaoh did not believe. He did not believe the God of Israel was the one true God, and he did not believe his slaves should be allowed to walk free, even for a short period to worship this God.

In Martyr’s Fire, and in Book 2, Fortress of Mist, Sigmund Brouwer capitalizes on this general inclination people have of embracing signs consistent with already held beliefs. In one instance, the people embrace the hero of the story, and in the other they embrace his enemies.

When I first read that the people of Magnus, the city Thomas freed and began to rule, made an about-face and wished to imprison him, I thought it was too unbelievable. But I was forgetting how a mob might be swayed–how a crowd can shout “Hosanna,” one day and “Crucify him,” the next.

Brouwer skillfully portrays the power of expectations and belief in the miraculous to sway a people, and within pages, those who once embraced Thomas as their king now realistically are turning against him.

Upon this point, the entire story of Martyr’s Fire hangs. If this change of loyalty is not believable, the idea that Thomas must run for his life and hide and scheme is meaningless. The book would fail. Happily, in my opinion, it did not.

Here’s the critical turning point. Hugh de Gainfort, one of the Priests of the Holy Grail claiming to be a sect representing the one and only true church, is addressing a crowd in Magnus–a crowd he has ensured will be as large as possible. He holds up a statue of the Madonna. Then this:

“She blessed this statue for our own priests, thirteen centuries ago. Our own priests, who already held the sacred Holy Grail. Thus, she established us as the one true church!” [said Hugh.]

A voice from the entrance to the church interrupted Hugh. “This is not a story to be believed! This is blasphemy against the holy pope and the church of Rome!”

Hugh turned slowly to face his challenger.

The thin man at the church entrance wore a loose black robe. His face was pale with anger, his fists clenched at his sides.

“Ah!” Hugh proclaimed loudly for his large audience. “A representative of the oppressors of the people!”

This shift startled the priest. “Oppressors?”

“Oppressors!” Hugh’s voice gained in resonance, as if he were a trained actor. “You have set the rules according to a religion of convenience! A religion designed to give priests and kings control over the people!”

The priest stood on his toes in rage. “This . . . is . . . vile!” he said in a strained scream. “Someone call the Lord of Magnus!”

One of Hugh’s men slipped through the crowd and placed a hand on the priest’s shoulder and squeezed the priest into silence.

No one else moved.

Hugh’s smile did not reach his cold black eyes. “The truth shall speak for itself,” Hugh said gravely. He turned back to the people. “Shall we put truth to the test?”

“Yes!” came the shout. “Truth to the test!”

Hugh then performed his miracle, the second the Priests of the Holy Grail had shown the people, and the turning of Magnus had begun. Thomas’s good friend and counselor tries to warn him:

Gervaise shook his head and pursed his lips in a frown. “Thomas, these new priests carry powerful weapons! The weeping Madonna. The blood of St. Thomas. And the promise of the Holy Grail.”

Gervaise paused, then added. “Thomas, tell me: Should the Priests of the Holy Grail become your enemy, how would you fight them?”

Thomas opened his mouth to retort, then slowly shut it as he realized the implications.

“Yes,” Gervaise said, “pray these men do not seek your power, for they cannot be fought by sword. Every man, woman, and child within Magnus would turn against you.”

The swaying of a crowd. On the surface, such a dramatic change might seem unbelievable, but by utilizing the beliefs and expectations, the fears and frustrations already existent, a few well-placed signs and “miracles” can do the trick.

At least Sigmund Brouwer has me believing it is possible.

Others in CSFF are also interacting with Martyr’s Fire this week, so I encourage you to check out their posts. Tell them Becky sent you. 😉

2 Comments

  1. Okay, you’ve gotten me interested! Thanks for the review, and I look forward to the rest of the tour!

    ~Literaturelady

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  2. […] If you missed any of the posts discussing Martyr’s Fire, you can see the entire participants’ list with links to their posts here. […]

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