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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