Precise and Thrilling, Merlin's Shadow an Excellent Entry
- Monday, December 30, 2013
Author: Robert Treskillard
Title: Merlin’s Shadow
Earlier this year, Robert Treskillard’s debut novel Merlin’s Blade marked a fresh entry into the canon of King Arthur literature. The book shifted the action several centuries earlier than the typical high chivalry Middle Ages backdrop, setting the scene in 5th century Britain, and using the power vacuum left after the departure of the Roman Empire from the British Isles, as well as the recent arrival of Christianity to the area, to form a perfect storm of conflict from which a young, blind swordsmith’s apprentice named Merlin would emerge.
In Merlin’s Blade, a druid named Morganthu wooed the residents of Merlin’s village of Bosventor with a mysterious stone that possessed magical powers. When High King of Britain Uther Pendragon passed through the village on a visit, with his infant son Arthur in tow, it became clear that the stone – and the druids who wielded it – had the capability of playing a significant role in deciding the future of England. Merlin and the town monks staved off an attack by battle chief Vortigern and the druids on Uther. Merlin regained his sight, but lost his father Owain. In the climactic battle with the druids, Merlin hammered a sword into the stone, negating its power, but was forced to flee his home to protect Arthur.
The sequel, Merlin’s Shadow, marks a gigantic leap forward in nearly every respect; the characters are sharper, the setting broader, and scope larger. When it comes to making this classic of Western literature his own, Treskillard seems to have a wizard’s touch, paying homage to the standard conventions of Arthurian legend while shifting the pieces around to keep the material fresh. It’s a thoroughly engrossing read that promises this sequel has earned its place alongside other memorable Arthur tales.
The book opens with Merlin and a small band of allies – the precocious teen Garth, Merlin’s love Natalenya, the aging bard Colvarth, and the druid Caygek – on the run from Vortigern, who seeks to kill Arthur and claim the throne for himself. Meanwhile, Morganthu has allied himself with Merlin’s half-sister Ganieda, who has discovered a pair of magical objects which enable her to become more powerful and dangerous than Merlin every imagined. Over the course of the book, Merlin and his band venture further and further north in search of safety, ending up on the doorstep of the king Atleuthun. Although he is Merlin’s grandfather, Atle’s motivations are suspect, and as the Pictish warriors close in, the action rises to a powerful climax.
The novel’s action is precise and thrilling, and its conflicts are cosmic. But what allows these struggles and the others of the book to resonate is the development of the central characters, specifically Merlin and his half-sister Ganieda. Both are characters very much in-progress, beset by personal tragedies which make faith difficult, and young enough that they are still wrestling with which path to take. These are recognizable conflicts, and readers will feel deeply for both characters on a personal level, in addition to feeling the need to keep reading because of the intricate web of suspense Treskillard has woven.
One of the most commendable appeals of this Merlin series is that recasting it in a world very different from the original means that one need not be a fan of the conventions of Arthurian legend to be drawn into this world. This second entry in the series gives strong evidence, however, for why the story of Arthur, the “once and future King,” has stood the test of time.
*This Review First Published 12/30/2013
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