Merlin’s Nightmare – A Review


Merlin's NightmareLast month I promised my review of Merlin’s Nightmare, book 3 of the Merlin Spiral by Robert Treskillard. Today I’m happy to provide said review.

The Story Eighteen years have passed since the end of book 2, Merlin’s Shadow. Merlin and his beloved Nataleyna married and besides their stepson, Arthur, they have two children of their own. They make their home in a secure valley away from those who want Arthur dead and from the enemy forces seeking to overrun Britain.

Arthur has grown up under Merlin’s watchful eye but also under the tutelage of some of the best swordsmen and horsemen in the country. Now some are counseling Merlin to reveal to the young man his true heritage—that of rightful High King. Merlin wants to wait until the man who betrayed High King Uther, Arthur’s father, has died. He concedes, however, that Arthur is ready to take part in the coming battles with the invading Picti in the north.

However, Arthur sets off ahead of the army, only he and the two friends with him mistakenly are going south to join a different force gathering to meet a different threat—that of the Saxonow.

When Merlin realizes what Arthur has done, he goes after him. He successfully overtakes him, but events manipulated by his evil sister Mórgana turn Britain into chaos. The Picti overwhelm the army in the north and besiege the safe haven which had been Merlin’s home, a strong king of Britain becomes Mórgana’s werewolf puppet, and the Saxonow outnumber the Briton forces ten to one.

In the midst of what looks to be sure ruin, Merlin tells Arthur who he really is. After a long night of soul searching and dealing with the fact that the man he thought was his father had lied to him for eighteen years, Arthur accepts his role.

The question is, will the other kings and warriors accept him as well? In fact, will there be anything left of Britain for him to rule?

Strengths. In many respects, Merlin’s Nightmare is more of a stand-alone than it is book three of a series. Separated by eighteen years from the events in the last book, this story introduces Arthur, one of the point of view characters, as an adult.

However, as in the first two books of the series, the pace of Merlin’s Nightmare is non-stop. There is action and adventure throughout. Because the story of Arthur is familiar, there aren’t real story surprises, but there continues to be suspense and intrigue connected with the “how does he pull it off” question.

There are also interesting relational dynamics in this story which aren’t typical in other Arthurian legend books, most notably Merlin’s relationship with his wife and other children. Arthur’s change from a wild-colt of a son to a strong-minded leader is handled believably. While the transformation happens rather suddenly, the events of the story require him to assert himself, so this aspect of the story doesn’t feel forced or artificial.

A strong thread of good versus evil continues to run through the story. There’s no doubt that the real conflict is spiritual not merely a fight against a person or a people group. While it is a fight for the survival of Britain, the goal is more than existence. Arthur and the men with him strive for a freedom they’ve known before and that will utterly disappear if they lose to the evil forces conspiring against them.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is the realistic setting. From the maps to the text, the story feels almost like a historical novel rather than a re-imaged legend. This quality can only come through solid research. Though the historical underpinnings offer veracity to the story, they do not overwhelm it or take it into dry or irrelevant territory.

Weaknesses. While Merlin’s Nightmare is the final book of the Merlin Spiral, it is not the end of the Merlin story. In fact, the conclusion feels more like this is the first book in a series rather than the last. Many readers won’t mind this and in fact will be delighted to learn that the story continues in a second series entitled the Pendragon Spiral.

More germane to the issue is what I perceive as a problem of goal. Throughout the story, I struggled to like Merlin because he did not seem to be an active participant. He wanted to take Arthur north to fight the Picti, but ended up going along in the opposite direction. He didn’t want to travel with Gogi and his daughters, but merely sulked and/or kept to himself. He didn’t want Arthur to go to the parlay with the Saxonow, but did nothing more than spy. He himself wanted to return home but did nothing but pine for his family.

In other words, there was no plan that the main character was working to achieve. He wanted things that he was powerless to bring about, and he made no plan to change his circumstances.

In fact, he and Arthur were often at odds. I kept wanting the strong and wise adviser to the High King to show up, but he didn’t.

Perhaps I was a victim of the many other legend books. Perhaps I wanted something different from the main character other than the believable responses to the circumstances in this book.

I did want something heroic, and not just in the nick of time. I wanted something heroic as part of the fabric of the character. But Merlin still seemed to doubt too much, to depend too much, to follow instead of guide. He didn’t make things happen. He reacted.

But this story is Merlin’s Nightmare, after all, so it could be I expected something the book never promised.

Recommendation. As part of the re-imaging of the Arthurian legend which Robert Treskillard is weaving, Merlin’s Nightmare is essential. I see it as the bridge book between the early events chronicling how Merlin saved Arthur and the later events chronicling how Arthur saved Britain. A must read for those who are hooked on stories about King Arthur. They will love this new look at the legend.

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Published in: on September 24, 2014 at 12:47 pm  Comments Off on Merlin’s Nightmare – A Review  

Merlin’s Nightmare – Tour Wrap


Merlin SpiralThis week the CSFF Blog Tour featured Merlin’s Nightmare, book three of the Merlin Spiral by Robert Treskillard. For the group, I think the tour was a huge success. For me individually, not so much. Because of a confluence of events, I was not able to post the last two days, including the last day of the tour. Suffice it to say, my review of Merlin’s Nightmare is forthcoming.

Apart from me, however, the tour carried on in fine fashion. Many participants stopped by other blogs to read and comment. There were also many thoughtful observations along with critical reviews.

The most oft repeated criticism was that the ending of this trilogy was not actually an ending but more nearly an introduction to the next trilogy, the Pendragon Spiral. Not that readers mind more Merlin and Arthur stories from author Robert Treskillard. Rather, it seems some wanted, even expected, more closure.

A couple things surfaced repeatedly in the “this is great” camp. One was the historical connection and the research that went into giving the book and series such an authentic feel. Another was the action that drew readers into the story and kept them turning pages.

I may have missed someone, but I didn’t see a single participant who was disappointed with the book or sorry they’d read it or recommended others not bother with it. Positive consensus like that isn’t easy to come by. Perhaps the fact that these readers, reacting thoughtful with the story and even criticizing aspects of it, nevertheless agreed that this book and series was worthwhile, says more than anything about how good it really is.

In the end, twenty-four bloggers posted thirty-nine articles discussing Merlin’s Nightmare this week. That doesn’t count the article I wrote at Spec Faith or the handful of reviews (my own included) still to be posted.

One of the more interesting posts, I thought, was Megan @ Blooming with Books, Day 2 post examining fealty and its application to today.

A must-read post, from my perspective, is Elizabeth William’s day two post about the fantasy elements of the story. Here is the meat of her article:

First, in this version, Merlin is not the last of the old, but the start of something new – a Christian, united Britain, which breaks down the tribal barriers and becomes a thing larger than the sum of its parts. With his scars, his history, and his harp, Merlin also has the traditional links to the past. But this book is not so much about saving the past as it is ensuring the future.

Secondly – power, magic, and awe belong not just to the druids and the devil-linked deals with demons, but also to the people of God. The miracles of God are less flashy than the “power” displayed by the various antagonists of the ‘bad guys’ – but there is distinct, overt magic there. More importantly, the magic and miracles are shown to be linked to the use of prayer, but not in a directive way.

The difference, as I see it, is thus: Morgana draws in the dark power and stabs at things with her fang. Merlin prays for strength and deliverance. (And God delivers, natch.)

CSFFTopBloggerAug14In the end, despite a number of top notch posts from a number of tour participants, I’m going to award this month’s CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award to Audrey Sauble for her three excellent articles at The Lore Mistress. I especially enjoyed her day three post about how the Merlin Spiral books fit into the Arthurian legends.

If you haven’t taken time to see what tour participants are saying about Merlin’s Nightmare, I hope you do so this weekend. The book is worth your consideration, and you have a wealth of insight at your disposal. Links to the tour articles are available at the end of my day one post.

CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Shadow, Day 3


Merlin's_Shadow_2I’ve had fun exploring Morgana and the Knights of the Round Table as part of the CSFF Blog Tour for Robert Treskillard‘s Merlin’s Shadow, Book 2 of The Merlin Spiral. But the strength of a blog tour is the book itself. It’s great that it stirs up thoughts and discussion, but is it a good story?

I’m happy to say, in my opinion, it most definitely is a wonderful story. Above all, I love to be surprised, and I love to see a character grow and change. Both those important aspects of good storytelling are present in Merlin’s Shadow.

The Story. Merlin, taking seriously his commitment to protect the baby Arthur, leaves to escape the vengeful druidow and the betrayer who arranged to kill High King Uther. Merlin’s one concern had been for his sister who he arranged to stay with the weaver and his family.

But betrayal exists in many guises, and Merlin and his band committed to help him care for the heir to the throne find no safe place to hide. In fact, the number of enemies increase, and worst of all, God seems to have abandoned them. At times Merlin would simply like the struggle to end, but as long as Arthur lives, he’s bound by his word to do what he can for the young prince. But what exactly can he do when he’s hunted, enslaved, and deserted?

Strengths. Tension fuels this story. It’s filled with danger, but also with realistic emotional reactions to the crises the characters face.

And readers are concerned with more than Merlin. A subplot unfolds regarding his sister, little Ganieda. With both her mother and father dead, her grandfather, the arch druid Morganthu, takes her to live with him–primarily because he sees her as a tool for his desires. When the weaver comes and takes her into his home, Ganieda believes she’s found a family that will love her. However, she discovers Merlin’s hand in the arrangements which pushes her toward the dark powers awakened when she was with her grandfather.

She’s a complex character, though still a child, and it’s Treskillard’s ability to make her thread of the story as compelling as Merlin’s that takes Merlin’s Shadow to the next level.

He’s able to do that with a host of other characters as well: Garth, Caygek, and to a lesser extent Natalenya. One of the most fascinating characters, in my opinion, was old Kensa. Clearly Treskillard has a way of writing unique characters that each have their own problems and needs that propel them through the story.

For those who love history, there’s a sufficient amount sprinkled throughout the story. More than once I found myself forgetting that I was reading legend, and re-imagined legend, at that. The story felt solidly anchored in a real place and time.

But how about the legend? Treskillard has given readers a fresh take on Arthurian lore. Of course there are as many ideas about the heroes, heroines, and enemies as there are writers who have ventured to feature Arthur. Treskillard adds his own while avoiding a simple retelling from Merlin’s point of view.

In addition, this is a Christian work, something that is believable considering the time period and the prevailing religious climate. But the Christianity is not surface. Merlin faces a crisis of the soul and others exercise surprising faith. There’s temptation, yielding, and repenting. The themes, in other words, are strong, even as they are appropriate and completely consistent with the events of the story.

Weaknesses. I have two. The first, I felt Merlin made a significant decision which could have had a stronger motive. I could see what was behind his decision, but it ran so counter to his desires all throughout book 1 that I felt there wasn’t sufficient reason given for the dramatic change that took place.

Along those lines, I thought Merlin’s crisis was resolved too quickly. He’d struggled for so long, I’d liked to have seen his change be more gradual or to have it brought about by something more dramatic. It’s hard to do when what we’re talking about is change in belief, in attitude. I loved the change. Really loved where Treskillard took Merlin. But I would also liked to have seen the reasons behind it strengthened.

Notice, in both instances character motivation is there. For me, those could have been stronger in those two instances, but for others, they may have been just right.

Recommendation. Merlin’s Shadow is a wonderful continuation of the Merlin Spiral trilogy. It’s fast moving, engaging, filled with tension and intrigue. I highly recommend the book to readers, especially fantasy fans. It’s a must read for those who love the Arthurian legend.

I received a review copy of Merlin’s Shadow by Robert Treskillard from the publisher in conjunction with the May CSFF Blog Tour.

CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Shadow, Day 2


King_Arthur_and_the_Knights_of_the_Round_TableMerlin’s Shadow, like its predecessor, Merlin’s Blade from The Merlin Spiral trilogy by Robert Treskillard, tackles a legend–the well-known and well-adapted legend of King Arthur–but the approach is unique, so there is nothing same-old or predictable about the story.

In truth, Treskillard’s trilogy details what happened before the legend and, in fact, what happened that made the legend possible.

The Arthurian legend is known for a number of things–Merlin and his wizardry; the sword Excalibur which proved Arthur’s right to take the throne; his queen and the love of his life Guinevere; the mysterious Lady of the Lake; and more. The cornerstone of the legend, however, might be the Knights of the Round Table.

One common retelling of King Arthur’s story includes his decision to unify his land by bringing in select, noble knights who would have equal place. Hence he created (or accepted as a gift, according to some sources) a round table so that no knight, himself included, would sit at the prestigious head of the table.

These knights became known for a unique code of conduct. They were “men of courage, honor, dignity, courtesy, and nobleness. They protected ladies and damsels, honored and fought for kings, and undertook dangerous quests” (from “The Knights“).

In Merlin’s Shadow, Treskillard takes the unique angle that a group of knights were already forming around Arthur long before he became king. Their first identifying feature was their commitment to the toddler who was heir to the throne of his father Uther, High King of the Britons.

In truth, Merlin’s Shadow , apart from the character development aspects, is primarily about protecting or rescuing Arthur and finding out who is up for and serious about performing the task.

Of the twelve most commonly named Knights of the Round Table, we’ve already met three, possibly four (I’m not sure about Peredur). They demonstrate the character, throughout the book, of the chivalrous knight before any such code was formalized.

One of the things I love about this book is the huge part that this unaffected selflessness played in one of the key plot threads. More about that when I do my review.

For now, I’d like to recommend some of the other sites on the tour.

* For the chance to win a copy of Merlin’s Shadow see the contest at JoJo’s Corner

* Robert Treskillard’s three part examination of where is God in The Merlin Spiral – Part 1.

* Tim Hicks at Fantasy Thyme takes a look at “The Good, The Bard, And The Not So Pretty” (a play on The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, for those of you too young to remember 😉 ).

* Jeff Chapman’s insightful look at some contrasts in his review.

* See the book trailers re-posted by Jennette Mbewe

If that’s not enough to keep you busy, see the entire list of participants at the end of the CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Shadow, Day 1 post.

CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Shadow, Day 1


Sandys,_Frederick_-_Morgan_le_FayRobert Treskillard‘s Merlin’s Shadow, book 2 of the Merlin’s Spiral trilogy is this month’s CSFF feature. Personally I’m quite happy about this because it is in these short days of winter that I so often have a craving for epic fantasy. Merlin’s Shadow has been the perfect remedy.

In the first installment of the series, Merlin is a blind son of the local blacksmith, hardly the wizard we associate as King Arthur’s close adviser. In Merlin’s Shadow, however, some of the pieces of the well-known Arthurian legend begin to fall in place.

Merlin’s Blade already introduced readers to the mysterious Lady of the Lake and to the sword Excalibur and showed the connection to Arthur.

In book 2, readers learn how Merlin became the target of his great enemy and Arthur’s nemesis, Morgana, also known as Morgan le Fey. In Treskillard’s imaginary take on the story, Merlin has a younger sister who he tries to care for and protect. In fact, he lost his eyesight in an attempt to save her from a pack of wolves.

But all changed at the end of Merlin’s Blade, including Merlin’s blindness and his ability to watch over his sister. Left to her grief and the wiles of her druid grandfather, little Ganieda discovers a connection with an ancient dark power.

What do the legends say of Morgana? Of all the characters connected to the Arthurian legend, she seems to have the most checkered reputation. Until more recently she was known as the offspring of a fairy or a demon and a human; an enchantress; the ruler and patroness of an area of Britain; a close relative of King Arthur.

Her traits reportedly resemble those of many supernatural women in Welsh and Irish tradition. She’s often associated with the supernatural ability to heal but also with various promiscuous relationships. One legend has Lady Guinevere expelling her from the court because of her “string of lovers.”

The stereotypical image of Morgan is often that of a villainess: usually a seductive, megalomaniacal sorceress who wishes to overthrow Arthur (from “Morgan le Fey”).

More recently, however, she’s been re-imaged by feminists as an example of feminine strength and spirituality in line with the beliefs of the ancient Celtic people.

Certainly her development in Treskillard’s The Merlin Spiral trilogy is one of the intriguing story threads. She plays an integral part in Merlin’s Shadow as an antagonist but also is a sympathetic figure at times, a wayward child in need of a guide.

In essence, Merlin chooses to care for and guard Arthur instead of Merlin’s sister. How different would these fictitious events have been if Merlin had chosen otherwise? It’s interesting to consider.

In addition to Morgana, Merlin’s Shadow also brings us the beginning of the Knights who would form the heart of King Arthur’s court–those of his famous Round Table. Piece by piece, Treskillard’s story is setting up the traditional Arthurian tale.

The CSFF tour is well underway and those participating have much to say about this outstanding addition to the lore of King Arthur. Click on the links below to read their thoughts.

(Check marks link directly to a blog tour post).

CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer


Wings of an Angel coverThirty posts, twenty-three bloggers, and near unanimous enthusiasm for Martyr’s Fire, book 3 of the Merlin’s Immortals series by Sigmund Brouwer. What few people know is that these books are a reworking of a previous series, The Winds of Light, first published by Chariot Victor Publishing (a defunct imprint of David C. Cook) from 1992-1997.

I first learned of this from one of our tour participants Rebekah Loper, and she brought it up again in her tour post this week. The books in the Winds of Light series in order are

    Wings of an Angel
    Barbarians from the Isle
    Legend of Burning Water
    The Forsaken Crusade
    A City of Dreams
    Merlin’s Destiny
    The Jester’s Quest
    Dance of Darkness

orphan-king-2In an interview with author Jill Williamson, Brouwer had this to say shortly after The Orphan King, book 1 of Merlin’s Immortals, released:

[The Merlin’s Immortals series is] definitely connected to the Winds of Light series; there was much of the story that was untold — action taking place between what we as readers could see — and Shannon, my GREAT editor gave me a chance [to] explore the rest of the events and put them on the pages. I wanted to do my best for those who read the original series, so that if they liked it the first time around, they would have many aha moments, and enjoy the story from this fresh perspective.

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

Next up for the CSFF Blog Tour: The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead.

Published in: on October 25, 2013 at 5:15 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer  
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Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3


Martyr's Fire coverAs usual, I’ve saved my review of the CSFF feature for the final day of our tour. Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer is book 3 of the Merlin’s Immortals series.

The Story. Martyr’s Fire continues the intriguing story about Thomas and his quest to become king of Magnus. Except, he’s already king. In a surprising reversal, he finds himself exiled and on the run because the Priests of the Holy Grail win the hearts of his people and seek to imprison him. He must avoid capture, escape the city, and find allies to help him oust the usurpers.

But who can he trust? There’s Isabelle, the beautiful woman working covertly for the Druids who wants him to join this powerful religion, and Katherine who duped him from the beginning, though she was instrumental in his conquering Magnus. There’s also her companion, the enigmatic Hawkwood, and now the outlaw Robin Hood. Can he trust any of them or do they all wish to bend him to their will and steal what he values most?

Strengths. Sigmund Brouwer has created delightful characters. I want Thomas to succeed. I want him to trust the right people, and I want them to trust him.

The reversal in this book was handled in a believable way. What I feared would seem like a repeat of Fortress of Mist was actually an unfolding of the secrets and mysteries (some) initiated in the previous books.

As Thomas is on the run, there’s credible tension. Will he escape? Will he run to the wrong people? Will he act in the predictable ways those who are watching expect?

The writing itself is strong so that I could lose myself in the story. The theme is tied to the good vs. evil struggle central to the plot. In that respect there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of depth to the story. Thomas must learn who he can trust and how he can prove himself trustworthy.

Weaknesses. I’m enjoying the Merlin’s Immortals series, and Martyr’s Fire is no exception. My only complaints have to do with depth and length.

I feel as if there’s much more to explore about the characters, but the book moves at a brisk pace and each person has his or her secrets, even from the reader, so it’s hard to feel deeply connected.

The theme as well, while not trivial, seems fairly plain. Thomas doesn’t wrestle with doubt or despair. His course is sure and trust the main issue. It’s good, but easy. Perhaps for the young adult audience it’s aiming for, the theme is not too simplistic. Still, I’d hope for more depth.

As far as length is concerned, all the Merlin’s Immortals books are not much over 200 pages–short for any novel, but especially short for fantasy. That young adult readers were devouring the 600+ page Harry Potter novels shows the capacity of this audience. I’d rather see two 400 page novels than four 200 page ones. But that’s my preference as a fantasy reader.

Recommendation. Any Christian who has shied away from fantasy because of a fear of magic has no excuse when it comes to Sigmund Brouwer’s Merlin’s Immortals series. Like the first two, Martyr’s Fire eschews magic and explains the trickery that appears supernatural as a use of little known natural phenomena. Those who enjoy legend will particularly enjoy this series. I recommend this book especially to younger readers or those hesitant about fantasy because of magic.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2


The Truth About Miracles

Martyr's Fire coverOne of the interesting things about Sigmund Brouwer’s Merlin’s Immortals series, of which Martyr’s Fire is book 3, is that there are no speculative elements in this speculative novel.

Don’t misunderstand. Merlin’s Immortals is correctly identified as part of the speculative genre since it falls into the category of legend. But where other iterations of the King Arthur legend embrace a thread of the supernatural or the miraculous, Merlin’s Immortals explains away what every day people assume to be miraculous.

In book two, for example, the hero of the story capitalizes on a well-known prophecy (which later the reader learns was actually intentionally planted among the people) by creating through “technology” the “miraculous” thing the commoners were looking for.

In Martyr’s Fire, the Priests of the Holy Grail make use of a bit of chemistry not widely known in that day to produce what they called miracles. In other words, both sides (and there is a “third side” about which the same is true) appear to have power beyond the natural, but in fact are simply making use of the natural to exploit the beliefs of the populace.

I find this to be interesting and suspect the idea of no magic or miraculous power falls comfortably inside the theology of some Christians. A segment of evangelicals believes that certain miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased (so that no one today prophesies or can heal, for instance), and it could be that this idea has expanded so that some do not believe miracles happen any longer.

In addition, some are uncomfortable with the idea that Satan and his demonic forces have power. Consequently, they would rather read stories in which evil forces have only conjuring abilities not supernatural might.

I myself am comfortable with either. I don’t need magic or miracles in the stories I read, but if they are there, I enjoy them.

This different approach to magic/miracles makes me wonder. What are miracles?

C. S. Lewis wrote a small book on the subject and he says this in his opening chapter.

Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted. And our senses are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. (Lewis, Miracles, p. 3)

He proceeds to demonstrate that experience is useless when trying to prove the existence of miracles. In the same way, history can’t be relied upon because the same “they were fooled” argument can be made.

In fact, this is the very approach Sigmund Brouwer uses in his Merlin’s Immortals novels.

Lewis claims that a belief in miracles relies upon a philosophical understanding of God. He defines miracle as “an interference with Nature by supernatural power,” so first a person must believe “there exists, in addition to Nature, something else which we may call the supernatural” (Miracles, p. 5).

I’m with Lewis on this, and identify with those he calls Supernaturalists. Some religious people, pantheists, he explains, do not fall into this category:

Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow, and you will command friendly interest. But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character. . . .The popular “religion” excludes miracles because it excludes the “living God” of Christianity and believes instead in a kind of God who obviously would not do miracles, or indeed anything else. (Miracles, p. 81, emphasis mine)

In short, miracles are nothing more than God intervening “to produce within Nature events which the regular ‘going on’ of the whole natural system would never have produced” (Miracles, p. 55).

Does God intervene with frequency? Some say yes and others no. My thought is, He can intervene as frequently as He wishes, in small ways or in large. He can intervene by altering time or matter or space–meaning He can cause “coincidences” because people arrive simultaneously with no such intention, water can become wine, and a resurrected body can pass from one place to another in the blink of an eye.

In fiction, I’m happy to read about supernatural power, even if it’s called magic or good magic, because I believe it reflects reality. God is all powerful. What can’t He do!

On the other hand, I don’t need to read stories that show supernatural power. I’m also aware that God works within Nature just as surely as He intervenes to alter it.

Brouwer has chosen to write a speculative series sans supernatural power (at least to this point). He’s done a credible job, and it’s an interesting concept. Perhaps readers who object to fantasy because of the magic will find this series to be right up their alley.

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. 😉

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