Tag Archives: Merlin

The Stolen Bride – Tony Hays

Tony Hays has pulled off a trick of alchemy with his Arthurian murder mystery, The Stolen Bride. It’s a very decent mystery–lots of clues, a few red herrings, plot convolutions, a fair amount at stake. Murder in Camelot–no fairytale here but the whole thing works. It’s set in the middle of power struggles in Arthur’s Wild West Britain in which lords and kings and leiges and usurpers and every manner of ambitious armed warrior is set on treachery. Into this rough and dirty world marches Malgwyn, Arthur’s one-armed counselor, an honest and perceptive soldier and advisor who is frequently at odds with his boss and wants nothing more than to be home with his daughter and very pregnant wife.

Home is a long way away when Malgwyn and his companions, riding to meet Arthur, stumble across the savage butchery of an entire village, women and children mercilessly slaughtered and the place in flames. One survivor, a young woman, could not place the invaders who spoke a strange language. Malgwyn takes her with them, vowing to avenge the massacre of her family and village. And, when he arrives at the castle of King Doged to help negotiate a truce among several warring tribes, Doged is murdered in his chambers, his young wife widowed and every power-hungry noble sets out with an army to try to seize the spoils.

The regicide is complicated and Arthur tasks Malgwyn with solving it. Doged’s widow is determined to hold onto his kingdom and she may be carrying the old king’s child.  Mordred, Malgwyn’s bitter enemy, is arrested for the crime but Malgwyn senses a larger and more ominous conspiracy and villains afoot. Vast mineral treasure is discovered on Doged’s land and control of the rich seaports and the mines is too tempting a prize for anything less than a score of deadly plots. Daron, the lone survivor of the massacre, is a tougher, more central player than she first seems. Malgwyn is playing a dangerous game and his own life could be forfeit.

Merlin and Igraine have major roles in the plot resolution. Arthur’s relentless work to hold his kingdom together and secure a just and lasting peace is threatened at every turn. Hays creates a real world with tremendous attention to details of arms, terrain, food, battle strategies, court protocols and ancient law. His characters are the best part–these are flawed, sweaty, smart, exhausted, furious, funny people. Betrayal is a byword. Trickery is commonplace, and some of it is wickedly clever. A few times the narrative felt a bit modern but the lapses weren’t so jarring that I lost the story or the sense of place. Even though the epilogue-like ending was just slightly cute, I’d have to say pretty good book overall. I’d read another one, although not right away. The events and the battles are bloody and desperate and, while I was satisfied at the main plot resolution, I wouldn’t want to live in that messy world. Occasional escape to it would be fine.

The Stolen Bride   Tony Hays | Forge  2012

The Eternal Flame – T.A. Barron

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The Eternal Flame is the third and final volume in T.A. Barron’s The Great Tree of Avalon fantasy trilogy. As in most fantasies that involve power grabs by villains  and salvation by untested heroes, the final book is mostly battle scenes. Books that are a sequence of battle scenes remind me of video games aimed at boys. Lesson learned: Don’t pick up a fantasy series at the end unless you love made-up creatures taking each other out in highly imaginative and bloody ways.

The series treats a world in the stars where some humans and a raft of invented tree, troll, gnome, elf, flamethrower and other critters are trying to destroy or save Avalon. Merlin has been banished to earth so he’s no help. It’s up to the young hero Tamwyn and a couple of chicks—Elli, an orphan who lives by harp music and Brionna, an elf who’s a sharpshooter with a bow and arrow—to save Avalon and several other starry worlds.

Terrible tricks are played on the good guys. People lose limbs, eyes, hope and their lives—well, they’re not all people but they suffer all the same. Once the war commences, it’s a steady procession of engagement, terrible rout by one side or the other, coup de grace via some magical technique or tool, many deus ex machina moments when all is lost but wait! salvation arrives in the nick of time.

The Eternal Flame is certainly imaginative and decently done for a genre book. At the end is a lengthy history and character biographies to help you out if you were an idiot like me and started with book 3. It’s no Lord of the Rings so I wouldn’t categorize it as a young people’s book that is really for all audiences. The stories were NYT best sellers so there are true fans out there, tracking developments in the heavens and worried about good and evil dragons, changelings and enchanted weapons. I like my Avalon tales a bit earthier and more Druidical so I’ll probably glide past volumes one and two and hunt for more Merlin-centric mists and lakes stuff for future reads.

The Eternal Flame (The Great Tree of Avalon, Book 3)   T.A. Barron | Philomel Books   2006

Merlin: Priest of Nature — Jean Markale

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Merlin is the seductive puzzle, the druid trickster, the bearded mentor of young kings, the pawn of priestesses and faeries.  Merlin steals the story as Gandalf, Yoda, Dumbledore and other reincarnations of the powerful, aphoristic sage. But the Merlin we think we know is a mere shade of the many Merlin’s captured in literature from ancient times.  Merlin: Priest of Nature, by the Celtic scholar Jean Markale, traces this Merlin backwards through time and tomes to a 12th century tale in verse called Vita Merlini by Geoffrey of Monmouth. That story came from ancient bardic myths and legends about a woods hermit and wild man called Myrddin Wyllt and a mash-up with a warrior chief named Aurelius Ambrosius (Merlinus Ambrosius), both figures that pre-dated Geoffrey’s work and had nothing or little to do with Arthur and Excalibur. Geoffrey also developed a Merlin in his well-known Historia Regum Britanniae, and in his Prophetiae Merlini (Merlin’s Prohecies).  

Markale spins his Merlin story from etymological threads. There are amusing observations, like the probability that Merlinus was a more acceptable latinization of Myrddin than Merdinus, which comes uncomfortably close to the French merde. Geoffrey’s audience was the educated class of Britain and Normandy and they would have known the French word to the detriment of the character. The Welsh, Celtic, Roman, Irish, Anglo-Saxon and other influences in the British Isles and along the Norman coast all serve to clarify the myriad bits that coalesce into a Merlin we accept today. If you enjoy getting lost in the etymological notes of the Oxford English Dictionary, as I do, you will be fascinated by the various permutations of Vivian, Niniane, Nimue, Gwendydd, Ganieda, Mordret, Medrawt, Morgan and more.     

But, if that’s too wonky for you, Merlin the enchanter is intriguing and ambiguous, as much myth as historical person. He may have been a wild woods-hermit, a bard, a sage, a magician who engineered Arthur’s birth and set in motion a legend treasured for a thousand years, a madman besotted with the charms of the Lady of the Lake who immured him under a rock and tricked him into giving her his power. Markale makes the case that Merlin was an heir to druids, a prophet, a master of the natural world, a madman–above all, a literary construct borrowed from appealing narratives and emerging as a powerful and enduring celebrity.

Robert De Boron, a court cleric, added Merlin to a grail history and may have written Lancelot in Prose that firmly fixes Merlin in the story of Arthur. That Merlin goes on to meddle spectacularly with history and ultimately retires to the forest in isolated, divine madness. Sir Thomas Malory wrote a great Merlin character in his thousand-page epic Le Morte D’Arthur, which I keep taking off the bookshelf and then regretfully slipping back when I realize I still don’t have time to finish it. Merlin’s literary evolution is as interesting as the wizard himself.

Merlin: Priest of Nature is a read for those who like to unravel language, or anyone obsessed with the idea of Merlin, flawed bard, outsider, prophet and magician. Markale has included a prodigious amount of scholarship and reference material that would be a good jumping-off point for an in-depth study of Myrddin-Merlin, whoever he was or whatever we would make of him.    

Merlin: Priest of Nature    Jean Markale    Inner Traditions   1995