CSFF Blog Tour: Merlin’s Nightmare

The whole of Britain is blighted with a drought. In the south, there is war against the Saxenow. In the north, there is war against the Picts. From within, the men of Kernow turn and attack the king’s city. Morgana, a woman with evil powers, drives them on, and has other plots in store.

It would be hard even for King Arthur to save a Britain like this. It’s harder yet for Artorius – young, reckless, and ignorant still of his heritage. But many things are emerging from their hiding places, and not all as welcome as the true king.

With Merlin’s Nightmare, Robert Treskillard completes the Merlin Spiral trilogy. The Merlin Spiral is very much a fantasy series; the magical element is strong, though put into a Christian context. But it is also firmly anchored in the historical reality of the fifth century – more so than many people may realize, given how obscure the fifth century is. (Vortigern may have a firmer place in history than Arthur.)

There’s a sixteen-year jump between the second book and the last, but it works well. I enjoyed seeing Arthur really enter the story. I liked the father-son dynamic between Arthur and Merlin, naturally arising from the earlier books, and I thought they shifted toward their ultimate roles as king and counselor in a subtle, convincing way. And though I did not initially notice it, Merlin’s fear contrasted with Arthur’s recklessness, and eventually both found their way toward the wise middle ground.

Guinevere was introduced in this novel, providing some lighthearted moments. I was also intrigued to see that Robert Treskillard made the beginning of her relationship with Arthur suitably contradicted. (And I wonder – was Lancelot also introduced, though by another name?)

Curiously, the book ends without any great triumph. The heroes enjoyed smaller victories, but a new disaster seemed to come on the heels of every one, and it’s not clear Britain is, on balance, better off when the fighting ended than when it began. Doubtless this is partly due to the fact that the story is not over, and undefeated enemies are held over for the upcoming Pendragon Spiral series. Still, I missed the moment of triumph. I missed the satisfaction of thinking, “It’s over, and they won.”

Merlin’s Nightmare is an intriguing, well-written novel that blends history and myth into a fascinating, innovative re-telling of the Arthurian Legends. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Pendragon Spiral.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: Two Distinguishing Characteristics

Last year CSFF toured Merlin’s Blade and Merlin’s Shadow, the first and second books of Robert Treskillard’s Merlin Spiral; now we finish the trilogy with Merlin’s Nightmare.

But not the story. That will continue with the Pendragon Spiral.

I’ll be reviewing Merlin’s Nightmare tomorrow. Actually, I was going to review it today, but that was back when I was going to do this post yesterday. Life happens, but as long as it doesn’t happen tomorrow, I will review the book.

For today, here is what struck me as the two most distinguishing characteristics of this trilogy:

One, all the history. The fantastical elements are quite prominent, but I am impressed by how the whole of the story is anchored in history.

Two, Merlin’s age. I always had a vague image of Merlin as an old man, probably with a long beard. In the Merlin Spiral, he’s a young man, and that actually struck me more in this last book than in the earlier two. He was a teenager in Merlin’s Blade and Merlin’s Shadow, but that was before Arthur’s time, and I knew he was young once. But in the final book, Merlin is thirty-four, possibly thirty-five, as he takes his place as King Arthur’s counselor – a new image for me.

As I said, I’m planning an actual review tomorrow. For now, here are the links:

Merlin’s Nightmare on Amazon;

Robert Treskillard’s website;

and the tourists, as we have been called:

Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Vicky DealSharingAunt
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott

Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller

Mirriam Neal
Joan Nienhuis
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Robert Treskillard
Phyllis Wheeler

Elizabeth Williams

CSFF Blog Tour: Interview with Robert Treskillard, part 2

Here is the conclusion to my interview with Robert Treskillard, author of Merlin’s Blade and Merlin’s Shadow. To learn more about his works, visit the blog tour, or his profiles on Goodreads and Amazon.

What level of historical veracity did you aim to achieve?

Well … as highly accurate as I was able to write, given normal time constraints. Thankfully my mother had visited Britain in the 1970’s and had brought back a small truckload of old books, which she then gave to our family. This helped a lot, as did the internet, but I had to be oh so careful, as you can’t take anything for granted.

For instance, the Brits don’t have lightning bugs … they have glow worms! Every detail had to be carefully checked. I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes (as Lars Walker has pointed out!), but the fact that the novel takes place 1500 years ago helps readers to give me a bit of charity. To be honest, we don’t know as much as we’d like to know about the era.

What sources did you use, for the history or the Arthurian legends?

For Arthurian legend, I read the original source texts, such as the Annales Cambriae, Nennius, Bede, Gildas, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Sir Thomas Malory, and a small bit of Chrétien de Troyes. I’ve also relied quite a bit on many of the Welsh writings about Merlin and Arthur, including the poems Y Gododdin, and Pa Gur.

As it is with such lofty legends, though, there is much confusion, contradictions, and embellishments, and that is the beauty and also it’s bane. It does give me a lot of leeway, however, as I can pick and choose what parts of the legend I want to include.

I tend to eschew modern retellings of Merlin and Arthur, though, because I don’t want to taint my own writing. Sadly, I’ve even mostly avoided the BBC Merlin TV show for the same reason. This show came out after I had finished my first draft of MERLIN’S BLADE and thankfully brought a lot of interest to the genre. I almost wonder if I’d even be published if not for the TV shows success!

For general history, I used lots and lots of books, many of which are out of print. For more recent titles, here’s a sampling. I hope they’re all still in print!

* The Brendan Voyage, by Tim Severin
* Celtic Myths and Legends by T.W. Rolleston
* The World of King Arthur by Christopher Snyder
* Roman Scotland—Frontier Country, by David Breeze
* Following The Path—The MacCallum House by James O. St. Clair
* The Celts, by Frank Delaney
* The Celts, by T.G.E. Powell

There’s also an itty-bitty Celtic prayer book that I’ve lost track of that I wish I could reference here. These good people’s prayers are very inspirational and really give a feel for the beauty of their simple, rhythmic lives, and their reliance upon God.

Oh, and I also have a collection of Cornish, Gaelic, and Norse dictionaries to draw from, and that is a help beyond measure.

What’s with the wolves?

Aha! The wolves originally were to play only a small role in the blinding Merlin, but then their importance grew to the point that when the novel was submitted, Blink/Zondervan put a wolf on the cover. The funny thing is that after this was done they came back to me and asked for “more wolves” in the latter half of the novel. I obliged them!

Perhaps the single most important story about Merlin is his role in Arthur’s conception. How did you come to grips with that element of the legends, and how did that affect your story?

I don’t want to give anything away, but I answer that question satisfactorily in book two when the party visits Dintaga, which is known in the modern day as Tintagel, the fortress of Gorlas. This is where legend says Arthur was conceived. It will be interesting to see what you think of how I plucked that legend from the mists of time and gave it some neon running shoes.

You are one of the few – in fact, the only I can name – who has experienced the CSFF blog tour as both a blogger and an author. Now that you’ve seen the tour from both sides, what do you think?

Well, there have been other authors who’ve been part of the tour … Jill Williamson, for one, and also Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper. Probably more. They were part of it as already published authors, however, so I suppose my story is a little different.

One thing that being on this side has helped me see is the importance of Amazon reviews. I always thought that my blog was the “important place” to put the review, and that Amazon was an “add on” if I had time—which I rarely did.

Now I know better. Yes, the blog is very, very important, but reviews on Amazon, BN.com, and ChristianBook.com, etc. can be critical to a book’s success.

When Michael Hyatt, the former CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers, wrote his first book, his goal was to have *40* reviews posted to Amazon the very first day the book was released. He now has over 340 reviews and is a New York Times Bestselling author.

For me … I just now received my 40th review, and it’s been six months!

Goodreads.com was also a sleeper to me. I never paid the site much attention, but have since learned of how critical that community can be to help get word out about a novel.

Also, I’m just thankful for everyon’e hard work to review my books and to promote speculative fiction in general. Being part of the tour as a reviewer is always fun, and being on this side is fun as well—but also humbling as I see people helping me out and sharing their thoughts on what worked and didn’t work in the novel.

Thank you!

CSFF Blog Tour: Interview with Robert Treskillard, part 1

This is the first half of my interview with Robert Treskillard, author of Merlin’s Blade and Merlin’s Shadow, books one and two in the Merlin Spiral. Enjoy!

How far back does your interest in King Arthur go?

When I was fourteen I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and I fell in love with the concept of kingship, swords, and battles … and soon after that I encountered the lore of King Arthur and became fascinated with those particular legends.

These were just seeds, however, and I hardly read any fantasy at all after that for the next fifteen years.

Then I encountered Stephen Lawhead’s SONG OF ALBION series, and this opened my eyes to the merging of faith and fantasy. I quickly devoured just about everything else he had written … even his kids books! This, of course, included his historical treatment of the Arthurian legends, which renewed my interest.

Still … the longings for exploring these legends more deeply laid dormant in me for eleven more years until I began to ponder the question as to “why would someone thrust a sword into a stone?” It made sense to me why you would pull it out, but why was it there in the first place? Every Arthurian author had tackled this question, but none quite satisfied my wonder. Finally, in a burst of inspiration, I came up with the answer … “what if the stone was the enemy and you were trying to kill it?”

That single answer grew into The Merlin Spiral trilogy, as well as the follow on trilogy that’s still in the planning stage—The Pendragon Spiral.

In the Arthurian legends there is a wealth of fascinating and imaginatively powerful figures. Why, of all of them, did you pick Merlin to center your story around?

Not an editorial comment. Just humor.

I think because he was so enigmatic, and also because he is so often misunderstood. In the Welsh legends Merlin is a combination of prophet and slightly crazed seer—not a wizard with blue robes and a pointy hat.

Not only that, but many scholars think, based on the era, that Merlin and Arthur would have been Christians. That, too, is often misrepresented.

How did you change Merlin from the original stories and why?

Well, part of that was answered by the fact that I wanted to write the novels for a (primarily) young adult audience. Editorial norms dictated, then, that Merlin be young. So I made him 18 … on the verge of adulthood.

I also made him mostly blind—very reluctantly—but that was dictated by the story. I had an evil stone that needed to do something, so decided, based upon research, that people would worship it. Stones, among many other things, were often venerated by the ancient peoples, including the Celts. Thus I gave the stone the power to make the people who see it want to worship it. So what better way to make Merlin immune than to make him unable to see it?

This created no end of difficulty for a debut novelist, however, as I had to learn to write from Merlin’s perspective without relying very much on his sight, which is poor at best. This was good medicine for me, however, and stretched me as a writer.

Keep in mind, though, that in MERLIN’S BLADE I am planting a lot of very small seeds of the more familiar legends, and these will grow and mature as the series progresses.

Why did you choose to use the Druids?

Interesting question! In A.D. 477, the druids were in the unenviable position of having been ousted from religious control of Britain, as Christianity had recently taken root. So then, this is an era of real conflict and fodder for the novelist, providing a powerful backdrop for THE MERLINS SPIRAL.

I’ve had some complaints that I presented the druids as one-sided, but I would disagree with that assessment. Look at Trothek and Caygek for example. These are druids who disagree with Mórganthu and resist everything he is doing, even to the point of death.

What I am really showing is just one bad example in Mórganthu and his leadership … and then beyond that, the other druids are following him because of the enchantment of the Stone. Thus I am attributing the real source of evil to the stone and to that shadowy figure I call “The Voice”. There will be much more about him in book two.

Also, I try to help the reader sympathize with Mórganthu and understand his motivations, especially through what happens to his son, Anviv.

The rest of the interview will be posted tomorrow. Until then, here are some links to chew on:

Merlin’s Shadow on Amazon;

Robert Treskillard’s website;

Robert Treskillard’s blog (incidentally, this is where I got the “Merlin’s Spiral” graphic above);

and the blog tour:

CSFF Blog Tour: Merlin’s Blade

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:

Noah Arsenault

Beckie Burnham

Keanan Brand

Jeff Chapman

Laure Covert

Pauline Creeden

Emma or Audrey Engel

April Erwin

Victor Gentile

Ryan Heart

Timothy Hicks

Jason Joyner

Carol Keen

Krystine Kercher

Meagan @ Blooming with Books

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Joan Nienhuis

Nathan Reimer

Chawna Schroeder

Kathleen Smith

Jojo Sutis

Robert Treskillard

Steve Trower

Phyllis Wheeler

Shane Werlinger

Nicole White

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.