CSFF Blog Tour: Merlin’s Shadow

For being such a little guy, Arthur has all kinds of people after him.

The High King, who is technically his uncle, wants to kill him. The Picts regard him as a bit of plunder. The arch-druid wishes to avenge a blood-grudge on him. And Atle … let’s not even go there.

All in all, they turn Merlin’s vow to protect and serve Arthur into quite a challenge. While the whole world seems to conspire to tear Arthur away from him, it also conspires against his happiness. From his mother’s loss, to his blindness, to his father’s death, to his disfiguring scars, from slavery to unaccountable hatred – well, should anyone wonder if Merlin loses himself in a storm of doubt and fear?

Merlin’s Shadow is the second book in the Merlin Spiral, and also the second book written by Robert Treskillard. Authors’ second books are usually better than their first, which is only to be expected. A little more curious, but also generally true, is that the second book in a series is better than the first. The Merlin Spiral follows this pattern.

The plot of this book was so well-woven, with loops and twists I hadn’t expected but which made sense. Dangers were alleviated and then replaced; often, curiously, what saved them from the present danger was the next danger. Merlin’s storyline was wonderfully balanced against his sister’s. At a few points they crossed, but usually they ran alongside each other, and in some way mirrored each other. I think both Merlin and his sister faced the same temptation in the end.

I enjoyed the blend of history and legend in Merlin’s Shadow. Both the fantastic parts and the historical parts were interesting, and they were tied together seamlessly. In addition, the many backgrounds were fascinating: the sea, snowy islands, the abandoned Roman wall, forests and valleys.

Thematically, this book dealt a lot with suffering and with those good things we so naturally and even rightly want. But we can see, through the characters’ decisions, how even good desires will lead us astray if we don’t give God His place above them.

The violence in Merlin’s Shadow was relatively small-scale (i.e., it usually involved only a few people, and not large battles). Still, the episodes were fairly frequent and, together with a few brutal images, made the book too grim. I think it would have been better for trimming some of the violence.

But that is the only caveat I have to offer. In everything else, Merlin’s Shadow impressed me. The story, the characters, the settings were all well-done. The spiritual themes were profound and flowed naturally from the story, and there was a lot of beauty in the writing itself. The Merlin Spiral is a compelling take on the Arthurian legends.

Last month Robert Treskillard gave me an interview for this blog tour, and I’m excited to share it. I’ll post it in two parts, tomorrow and the day after.

An addendum: I signed up for a CrossReads book blast, realizing only afterward that the date was squarely in the middle of this blog tour – something I’ve avoided before, since mixing a blog tour with a totally unrelated book blast violates my sense of order. But both are scheduled and so both will go ahead.

So if you come back to read Robert Treskillard on his Merlin series, and come upon a post about Amish Christmases, just enjoy the irony. I’m trying to.

10 thoughts on “CSFF Blog Tour: Merlin’s Shadow

  1. Shannon,

    Great review, and very thoughtful!

    The violence is definitely dark, so I understand your feelings there. Interestingly, though, a whole lot less people die in book 2 compared with book one. But the violence that is there is a bit relentless, so yes.

    (Perhaps the scene with Ganieda and the pit near the end is the best candidate for removal!)


  2. Excellent review, Shannon. You always make me think about things in a new way.

    I felt the same way as you regarding the twists and turns of the story. Most definitely, not predictable.

    I’m looking forward to your interview!


  3. Robert, that scene towards the end with Ganieda and the pit reminded me of Tom Pawlik’s Beckon. There’s a scene in that one that’s not so different. Of course, it’s in the supernatural suspense (read horror genre! :-O )


  4. I really like that you have something critical to say about something in the book— the violence. I think Christians have a tendency to look at a work of Christian fiction and feel we have to only say nice things. But showing both sides doesn’t actually hurt the author, in fact may draw more attention to the book.

    I will definitely come back to this blog for the rest of the blog tour. Looking for the Amish Christmas post. It should be a great inspiration to me in writing my Amish zombie apocalypse novel.

  5. Thank you for your comments, Robert, Becky.

    About the violence: It’s odd what affects you, and different people will have different sensitivities. Scafta’s murder of that one slave got to me far more than the wiping out of Atle’s whole household. The murder might have been a little more graphic, but the major difference was, I think, that I felt sorry for the slave. His death was so cruel, so unjust. Atle’s household, on the other hand – they deserved it, and at any rate the “ninth year celebration” ended with them. It was satisfying to know that such a horrible evil had been purged.

  6. Thanks, Nissa.

    Christians should, I believe, be supportive of each other, even in the arts, but kindness and honesty aren’t contradictory. The truth should be told … gently.

  7. That’s interesting, Shannon, about the slave … I don’t know that I would have guessed that. What I wanted the reader to fear, there, was for Merlin’s life, yet maybe I went too far in that goal. My thought was that if I didn’t make it clear just how dangerous Scafta could be, then the fight with Merlin later in the story might have been a ho-hum affair.

    Anyway, hopefully my way of giving Scafta his come-uppance was a surprise for most! I actually took some of the concepts of the importance of his hair from the legends about the natives of Fiji. Old Fijian culture has very different customs than our own, and I wanted to give the reader a feel for that strangeness up in Pictland.

  8. I found Scafta’s depiction creepy and intimidating from start to finish. And his comeuppance did surprise me. I thought it was a clever twist, especially because it played off the strange culture that gave him his power in the first place. Drawing from Fijian culture for the Picts strikes me as another example of the Merlin Spiral’s combination of history and legend.

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