CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – The Orphan King / Fortress of Mist


csffbannerThe accomplished novelist Sigmund Brouwer reworked an earlier set of novels to create the books in his new Merlin’s Immortals series, of which The Orphan King is book one and Fortress of Mist is book two. The CSFF Blog Tour had the good fortune to feature both books last week.

Twenty-six bloggers took part in the tour, posting a total of forty-five articles. Among my favorites were Rebekah Loper‘s comparison of the series upon which the Immortals is based with this new iteration. I also loved Stever Trower’s Tuesday Tunes with the new slant toward telling the story with his song selections. Very clever and fun! Several of us discussed magic, and many of us compared book one with book two.

But now it is your turn to determine which articles rose to the top. Here are the bloggers eligible for the February CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award:

Thanks in advance for your help selecting the winner (and can we please bring an end to the ties we’ve been having? 😉 ).

Voting ends midnight (Pacific time), March 4. That’s a week from today.

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CSFF Blog Tour – The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist, Day 3


Fortress of Mist coverAs I mentioned Monday, I decided to review The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist together because they are parts of one grand young adult fantasy story–Merlin’s Immortals by Sigmund Brouwer.

The Story. Young Thomas is an orphaned boy growing up in an out-of-the-way abbey where he is treated more like a slave than a charge of the church. His nurse, who he discovered was actually his mother, cared for him until he was eleven, teaching him to read and pointing him toward his destiny–one day he would conquer the unassailable fortress of Magnus and reclaim the throne taken from his father.

Goaded once too often by one of the monks, Thomas makes a violent break from the abbey and begins his quest. As part of his plan, he frees a Knight Templar from the executioner’s noose. In the process he also frees two other prisoners–a pickpocket and a beautiful young woman who appears to be deaf and mute.

As Thomas struggles to gain control of Magnus, he discovers there are those who promise to help him, even empower him, if he will but join their ranks and turn over to them the legacy left to him by his mother–books of knowledge that give him a decided edge over his enemies. But are these Druids enemies or friends? And who are the Immortals? On what side is his new friend, the apparently disfigured young woman serving in the candle shop who he defends?

Strengths. Sigmund Brouwer is a wonderful writer. He has created intriguing, believable characters. Thomas is wise beyond his years, an observer of human nature, kind-hearted. The secondary characters are equally interesting and well-drawn.

The plot has lots of intrigue and avoids the fantasy curse of predictability. There are surprises and twists and (unfortunately) cliffhangers. And romance for those of us who think a good romance belongs in every story. 😉

The setting is well drawn, with sufficient sensory detail to transport the reader to England during the Middle Ages. There is also a distinct thread running through the story exploring faith in God at the same time that it exposes the corruption of the church during this period.

Weaknesses. The Orphan King started slowly. It had moments of suspense, but drifted into confusion too often, I thought. Rather than opening with the main character and grounding the reader in what he wanted, one of the factions vying for his allegiance made the first appearance.

Much of the story involved William, the Knight Templar who didn’t trust Thomas, though they appeared to build a bond. His unwillingness to give Thomas any information that would help him understand what he’s up against was galling.

The story picked up in the latter half and continued at a crisp pace throughout Fortress of Mist. Anyone interested in this series should not judge it by the beginning of Book 1

I mentioned yesterday that this is a fantasy series that, so far, is missing one of the main fantasy tropes–magic. Rather, scientific activity that may have appeared as magic in that day, replaces traditional fantasy magic. So the prediction of such a thing as an eclipse appeared to those without knowledge about the way the sun and moon work, as though the person making the prediction had the power to darken the sun. Mr. Brouwer’s use of science in a superstitious age instead of magic was innovative and clever. Some readers may find it a refreshing departure from supernatural power. Others may be disappointed that the speculative elements are so thin.

Recommendation. If you lean toward historical fiction, you’ll especially enjoy The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist. I quickly connected with Thomas and wanted to see him succeed at every turn. I was most frustrated when people I believe to be good refused to help him because of their own doubts. Thomas rightfully had doubts, I thought, but those who were in a position to help him … not so much. Still, that bit of frustration is in no way a deal breaker. I’m happy I found these books and recommend them to fantasy fans and highly recommend them to fans of historical fiction.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist, Day 2


csff buttonYesterday I introduced Books 1 and 2 of Sigmund Brouwer‘s Merlin’s Immortals series–The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist–as classic epic fantasy. The only problem is, one of the key fantasy tropes is … well, sort of missing. What we have is a fantasy with the promise of magic but no actual magic.

The protagonist sets his sights to conquer a secretive, fortified city built by none other than the wizard Merlin and rumored to protect magical secrets. There’s the promise of magic.

But throughout the story there is largely a scientific explanation for anything that looks to the people in the story as magic–potions, acid, technology, acrobatic trickery, scientific knowledge. It’s interesting, but I have to wonder if Mr. Brouwer is intentionally skirting the kind of magic the wizard Gandalf displayed in J. R. R. Tolkien’s books for fear of offending his Christian readership.

I suppose I’ll never know. Still, I thought it might be appropriate to re-post my thoughts on magic from two years ago, largely answering the question, Is magic un-Christian? Here, then, is “Standing Up For Magic,” a re-do.

The first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries is this: “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

My question, then is, Do we Christians not consider God “supernatural”? But … but…but … God’s work is miraculous, not magic, someone may well say. And the Oxford American Dictionaries would agree that God’s work is miraculous: “occurring through divine or supernatural intervention, or manifesting such power.”

But isn’t miraculous simply a more narrowed term, specifically referencing the divine? Magic, on the other hand, does not exclude the divine.

However, I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics. Let’s agree that the Bible does warn against magic and witchcraft and other sorts of divination sought from powers other than God Himself.

In contrast, God’s powerful works are called miraculous and prophetic.

The point that is noteworthy for fantasy writers and readers, however, is this: the Bible makes it clear that both God and Satan have power. Not in equal measure. Satan is no more omnipotent than he is omnipresent, though I suspect he’d like Man to think he is both.

Make no mistake. God’s power trumps Satan’s, and it’s not even a fair comparison. Satan may not get this because it seems he keeps trying to go up against God, as if he can outmaneuver Wisdom or out-muscle Omnipotence.

Moses_rod_into_snakeBe that as it may, we can’t deny that he has power and it is supernatural—beyond Man’s abilities. Pharaoh had his magicians and so did Nebuchadnezzar, and seemingly they were used to these conjurers producing what normal folk could not. Their power was not from God, however.

Moses, with the rod of God, went head to head with Pharaoh’s magicians, if you recall, and God’s power dominated. Nebuchadnezzar’s sorcerers could not tell their king his dream, let alone the interpretation of it, but God’s man, Daniel, could.

But back to fantasy. If supernatural power—good and evil—is real, then why should Christian fantasy writers pretend that the evil forces in their stories don’t have real supernatural power? Why should we pretend that those siding with good have no supernatural power?

Fantasy, after all, gives a story-long metaphor for the real world. Why would we want to give Christians—young adults or adults—the idea that there isn’t actually supernatural power of any kind by doing away with magic in our stories?

It seems to me it’s important to address the source of power and the reality of power and the proper attitude toward power—all which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist, Day 1


orphan-king-coverThis month the CSFF Blog Tour has the privilege of featuring both books 1 and 2 of Sigmund Brouwer‘s young adult fantasy series, Merlin’s Immortals: The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist. What a deal! Especially because as many fantasy series are, Merlin’s Immortals tells one story in numerous phases.

Originally I’d considered posting separate reviews for each of the two books, but I’m rethinking that idea. It’s hard to separate one from the other. Yes, there is a degree of resolution at the end of The Orphan King, but there are as many questions as there are answers. Continuing on with Fortress of Mist is natural.

Merlin’s Immortals will delight fans of classic, epic fantasy. Swords, knights, castles, a journey, mysterious magic, and the wizard Merlin. And yet, despite the familiar, The Orphan King and Fortress of Mist read like no others.

It is this ability to create a new story with familiar tropes, that makes for great fantasy, from my perspective. But more on that in my review. For now, I encourage you to see what others participating in the CSFF tour are saying about Merlin’s Immortals.

Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Jennifer Bogart
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Janey DeMeo
Theresa Dunlap
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Jeremy Harder
Ryan Heart
Janeen Ippolito
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Anna Mittower
Eve Nielsen
Nathan Reimer
James Somers
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler

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