Merlin's Nightmare takes place eighteen years after the events in Merlin's Shadow. Merlin has found a relatively safe place in a secluded valley in the northern province of Rheged to raise Arthur and begin a family of his own with Natalenya. Merlin has managed to conceal Arthur's identity, even from Arthur, as the boy trains to be a warrior and grows to manhood. Arthur assumes that Merlin and Natalenya are his parents. Only a few select residents of Dinas Crag know the truth. Merlin has inherited the position of chief bard from Colvarth and is training his son Taliesin to be a bard. But the Picti—the feared and hated slavers—are not far to the north and Merlin cannot hide from the wolves of his nightmares forever. At some point, Arthur must leave home to claim the High Kingship that belongs to him, but Merlin is reluctant.
Morgana, Merlin's sister and nemisis, has not been idle during these years. She now has a son, Mordred, and enlists the aid of Loth and Morganthu in her quest to destroy Merlin and establish anew a kingdom of the druidow. She has the orb and fang she took from the stone and her powers of sorcery have grown. She has gathered an army of half-wolf men led by a werewolf. Morgana follows the Voice. Merlin follows the Christian God. The Saxenow are eating away at Britain's territory from the south. Rash and impetuous, Arthur and two of his friends take off for the south, thinking that the warriors at Dinas Crag are preparing to join a muster to fight the Saxenow. Arthur's mistake sets in motion a chain of events that will alter the fate of Britain.
When I imagine King Arthur, I usually think of an old man, long established on the throne, presiding over his knights. With all the stories of the round table, it's easy to forget that Arthur was once a young man who attained his position through strife and struggle. Treskillard gives us that young Arthur and imprints his own take on the legends.
Treskillard's story, like many stories, works on oppositions: the bold Arthur versus the cautious Merlin; Merlin's sister Morgana versus Arthur's sister Myrgwen; the Voice of the druidow versus Christianity. Treskillard's characters fight against overwhelming odds and he pushes them to the brink of destruction over and over again. If there is something I don't like about the series, it's the constant beat of doom. Just when you think a situation cannot get any worse and something good must happen on the next page, it gets worse. What saves the story from being a series of near disasters matched with near miraculous escapes, is Merlin's character. Sometimes strong, sometimes weak, sometimes confident, sometimes uncertain, Merlin struggles against his fears to do what is right. He even contemplates redeeming his sister, Morgana.
But could [Merlin] kill his own sister? She who had shared his porridge bowl? His childhood home? The very blood in his veins? Or was there a way to rescue her, to pull her away from the Voice's talons? He didn't know. And this uncertainty rusted through the armor of his bravado, letting the black cockroaches of fear crawl in so that he fairly shook and scratched to get rid of them.Merlin is hard on himself and exasperating when we see him faltering. He's well-aware of his failings. He's set a standard for himself that no one could live up to, but we respect him all the more for trying.
As the journey wore on he stopped eating his share of the rations. He stopped shaving. He stopped washing his face and hands. And mostly, he just stopped talking. At night he would rub ashes on his skin to kill the fear. To confess his sins and lack of faith.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
To learn more about Robert Treskillard and his writing, check out his website at: www.KingArthur.org.uk.
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