This month's selection is Merlin's Shadow, book two in the Merlin Spiral series by Robert Treskillard. I reviewed the first book in the series, Merlin's Blade, a few months ago. You can find my comments here.
Merlin's Shadow picks up the action where Merlin's Blade ended. Merlin has killed the stone by driving Uther's sword into it. Merlin's father is dead. Ganieda--Merlin's half-sister--watches her dear mother die and vows to take revenge on Merlin, whom she blames for everything. Uther's daughters are in hiding and Uther's infant son Arthur is under the protection of Merlin and Colvarth who are on the run from Vortigern, who murdered Uther and covets the high kingship. The narrative switches back and forth between Merlin, Ganieda, and the druid Morganthu as it develops the characters and sets up the conflict between Merlin and Ganieda.
Merlin faces one hard decision and test after another. Not a lot of good things happen to Merlin and company in this book. They endure Vortigern's chase, a season of back-breaking slavery to the Picts, and a harrowing journey across an icy sea. Time and again, Merlin's efforts are thwarted, although a few small victories along the way keep the party alive. Merlin struggles with depression and a deep sense of failure, but his suffering is not in vain. He learns to depend on others as he comes to understand lessons in humility, love, and sacrifice.
Ganieda's path takes her in the opposite direction toward a darker destiny. At the foot of the stone, she discovers an orb and a fang, both of which possess dark, magical powers. The orb allows her to see other places and to briefly travel there. She weilds the fang like a weapon to give power to her curses. Both Ganieda and Morganthu are able to use the orb and fang. They delight in Merlin's suffering, which they witness through the orb. They interfere with Merlin and their efforts add to his suffering but always fall short of killing him. Ganieda and Morganthu fight over the orb and fang. Ganieda also has visions in which she meets with the Voice, Belornos perhaps, who uses her hatred for Merlin and love for her mother to manipulate Ganieda into its servant. Ganieda learns too late that while the Voice never lies, it omits some of the truth, allowing Ganieda to believe in falsehoods.
With its themes of humility and sacrifice, Merlin's Shadow is a deeply Christian work. Treskillard sets up an interesting contrast between the sangraal--the Holy Grail--and Ganieda's tools--the orb and fang. Merlin finds that he cannot make the sangraal do magic for him but he is unable to dispose of it when he loses faith in it. The bowl keeps coming back to him. Ganieda and Morganthu find it easy to manipulate the orb and fang to bring destruction but Ganieda is powerless to do what she most wants, bring her mother back. The orb and fang are easily lost, and one must work hard to reacquire them once lost. The sangraal can restore and heal, but as Merlin discovers, the power rests not in the object but in faith in the power behind it.
If you enjoy a complicated story pitting forces of good and evil against one another in an heroic struggle, check out Treskillard's variation on the Merlin-Arthur story.
To learn more about Robert Treskillard and his work, visit his website at www.KingArthur.org.uk or his blog at www.epictales.org/blog/robertblog.php.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Merlin's Shadow from the publisher.
Check out what other CSFF Bloggers are saying at the links below: