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-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.

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