Tuesday, August 26, 2014

CSFF: Merlin’s Nightmare (Merlin Spiral #3)

Title: Merlin’s Nightmare

Series: The Merlin Spiral #3

Author: Robert Treskillard

Genre: YA Arthurian Legend Retelling

Ratings: Craft—4, Content­—4, 
Overall—4.0 out of 5 stars

Excerpt from “The Pact,” prologue to Merlin’s Nightmare:

Mórgana scowled at King Gorlas’s back as he dug into the grave.

“Accursed shovel!” he yelled to the darkness, slamming the iron edge once more into the ground and flinging the dirt up. Five more times he jabbed at the loamy clay before twisting his wiry neck around and gazing at her savagely. “Are you sure she’s here?”


Gorlas wagged his wild bread, and a silver torc shone from under its disheveled black fronds. “If not, I’ll have your spleen sliced out—”

“Tell me again why you want her back.”

“I’ve told you.”

“Tell me again . . . while you dig,” she crooned.

“Igerna ran away.”

“Two months past, it was, remember?” She took a step forward, stooped, and stroked his cheek with one finger.

His eyes lost focus. “That’s right,” he said, digging the shovel in and throwing dirt from the hole. “When the moon was full.”

“Yes, the moon. Go on.”

“And yet you claim she died sixteen years ago.” He dug into the soil again. “But it makes no sense. She’s buried here, you say?”

“Yes,” Mórgana said, looking up at the stars winking down through the trees. “Her body is here. Keep digging.”

As threats grow on every side, Merlin tries to protect a young Arthur as he takes his rightful position as king.

Craft: With Merlin’s Nightmare, the Merlin Spiral doesn’t so much finish a series as much as lead into a new one, the Pendragon Spiral.

Actually, that is a bit of an annoyance for me as a reader. I expect closure, the feeling of completion or coming full circle for the main character, with the final book of a series, even if that book is opening doors for a sequel or a spin-off series. Merlin’s Nightmare seems to offer none of that. The ending doesn’t feel merely open; it feels unfinished. If closure is presented, it has gotten lost, and the result is that this book reads more like a transitional book in the middle of a series as the story shifts focus from Merlin to Arthur. Personally, I would have preferred to seen these books presented as one series rather than two, for it is disconcerting to “finish” a series when the story has only reached its midpoint.

However, I understand the a split in related series are done for a variety of reasons, some of which the author has no control over, and there is an upside in this for the readers who have fallen in love with the rich tapestry of this Arthurian retelling: The story isn’t over yet.

So concerns over the ending aside, Merlin’s Nightmare offers a vividly drawn world rich with details. Familiar elements—such as the sword in the stone—are deftly woven into the tale, but often with a fresh take that will surprise the reader. The characters are complex and often conflicted. This makes them sympathetic and the story compelling, even if the journey isn’t comfortable. Add to this a plot full of danger and suspense, and the result is a riveting read.

Content: Like the story itself, Merlin’s Nightmare offers rich thematic material.

On one side, you see Merlin wrestling with his desire to protect and live in safety with the need to let go and take risks. One the other side, you witness the reckless bravery of Arthur and his growing realization of what it means to lead. Sandwiched between are threads on sacrifice, responsibility, balancing decisions with advice, and the sovereignty of God. For me, the moment when Merlin must answer the question, “Who am I?” was especially poignant.

Concerning other topical concerns, both violence and magic exist in high amounts. Although the elements aren’t out of line with the story but seem to be appropriately handled, those with sensitivity to either or both those areas will have to carefully weigh whether they should pursue this story.

Summary: Merlin’s Nightmare is not so much the end of a series as much as transition into the second half of the tale. As long as that is held in mind, this novel continues to offer a richly drawn and highly suspenseful retelling of Arthurian legend. Some caution recommended for younger readers and those with high sensitivity to violence/gore and/or magical elements, but a must-read for fans of King Arthur.

Ratings: Craft—4, Content­—4, Overall—4.0 out of 5 stars

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