The blind son of the village blacksmith cannot, perhaps, expect too much. Even a conversation with the young, sweet-voiced harpist seems at the outer limits of hope. But hope Merlin does. He even tries.
So his troubles begin. But soon enough the wreckage of that long afternoon will shrink into unimportance. Ancient powers are rising up in Britain, reaching into places high and low, and though Merlin is blind, he will see.
Merlin’s Blade is the beginning of the Merlin Spiral, Robert Treskillard’s telling of King Arthur. Perhaps the most notable thing about this retelling is how it orders and redefines the supernatural element of the Arthurian legends under the authority of Christianity. The supernatural is ubiquitous in the old stories and reflects, I think, the pagan notion of ambiguous spiritual forces lurking all around us. There is something anarchic in the visions of minor competing powers, of magic working good ends through evil means.
In Merlin’s Blade the King reigns, and though there is rebellion, there is not anarchy. All spiritual power that is good is attributed to Jesu and, beneath His will, His servants; the evil spiritual powers are connected to the druidow and, through them, demons. Spiritual power that is simply neutral is eliminated.
In this way Treskillard tames the fantastic element, drawing his own story back from what was, in the original, most outlandish (Merlin wasn’t human) and, to be frank, creepiest (Merlin, by magic, deceived Arthur’s mother into sleeping with Arthur’s father). By this, and his use of historical facts, Treskillard brings the story of Arthur just into the realm of the possible.
Knowing the tension between the mythical Arthur and the historical Arthur, I enjoyed this attempt to bridge it. I also enjoyed the character of Merlin, with his scars and his limitations and his inner strength. He seemed – this is the plainest way to say it – like a real person.
On the stylistic level, there were some rough spots. I thought people “shrieked” too much, and some phrases or sentences could have used a little more polishing. For example, near the climax we read, “Natalenya was of quality, something Merlin was beginning to understand” – which seemed a bit off; he’d been smitten with her since the first page. Substantively, I took exception to some brutal moments and one or two gag-worthy images.
Taken altogether, I found Merlin’s Blade an impressive effort. Even fantasy-readers who feel tired of King Arthur may be rewarded by trying it. It probably isn’t the Arthur you know – and certainly not the Merlin.
Now, fellow-travelers, we have links to
– Merlin’s Blade on Amazon;
– Robert Treskillard’s blog, and
– his website;
– and, finally, to the blog tour: