Friday, May 31, 2013

Merlin's Blade: Book Review



As you might be able to tell, I'm into writing book reviews at the moment. One of these days (soon I hope), I'll get around to something different, and maybe catch up on life. For now, here is a review I wrote for Myrdan Creations this week, as part of a speculative fiction blog tour...

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The theme of this story seems obvious from its title—Merlin, yes, so obviously it’s a story about Arthur. Arthur and Merlin maybe, but most certainly Arthur.


Merlin’s Blade, however, is touted as the story before Arthur—the story of Merlin.

In this, the first book of The Merlin Spiral, Robert Treskillard writes the story of a blacksmith’s son, half-blind, only able to see blurs and shadows, but able to see some things better than most of the stronger, more clear-sighted villagers around him. In keeping with this, the book follows Merlin’s attempts to find his way in the world and his struggle to fit into a broken family.

At the same time, Merlin’s Blade is also the story of the young Merlin’s first encounter with supernatural power, when the old forces of Druidic magic and idolatry invade his quiet home village in Cornwall. And Cornwall, or ‘Kernow’ as Treskillard calls it, is an easy prey as the villagers split between the new way of peace and the old way of fear, superstition, and greed.

As darkness spreads around the village, the High King, Uther Pendragon arrives with his family, ready to raise the country against the Saxon threat on the kingdom’s borders. And, from there, the story spirals into chaos.

Treskillard uses parts of the legend as his base, while tweaking other parts slightly, perhaps because of the book's YA audience. Merlin’s Blade hints that Uther has a long-standing rivalry with Gorlas, King of Cornwall, related to Uther’s marriage to Queen Igerna, but it skips neatly over the usual version of the tale. This appears to be the biggest change to the legend, though I also picked up some guesses about the Lady of the Lake and the blade of the title—a sword which Merlin helps his father to forge through the course of the story.

Still, as other reviewers have noted, Merlin’s Blade is something more than a rewrite of Arthurian legend. Uther, and his infant son Arthur show up, yes, but this story ends goes back before the beginnings. In fact, apart from Uther, and his son Arthur, I found more references to standard Arthurian fare in the appendix than I did anywhere else in the book. At its core, the book is the story of Merlin’s coming of age and how he came to swear allegiance to Uther Pendragon.

For myself, I enjoyed the read. I found only a couple points of difficult, mainly due to the wide cast of characters—and some strange sounding names at that—which make the story hard to follow at a couple points. There is also some rather natural dithering among some characters, and at one point, Merlin manages to convince his father—with no questions asked—of something he knows only by special knowledge, but these were relatively minor points compared to Treskillard's work as a whole.

After finishing Merlin's Blade, I definitely am curious to see how the story continues through the next two books of the trilogy. Treskillard leaves hints of more Arthurian fare to come, but I hope the trilogy will keep on as it has started.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Damascus Countdown: Review

 
A pre-emptive strike—two loose nuclear weapons—a seemingly invincible alliance of Muslim nations—and an all-out attack on Israel?
 
David Shirazi, a CIA operative, nearly has it made when it comes to his work in Iran. His bosses in the US give him almost free reign. The Iranians practically give away the sources he needs (except for the most important ones, of course).
 
Shirazi’s biggest challenge? He can’t rely on having backup when he needs it.
 
Last summer I reviewed Joel Rosenberg’s Implosion, on doomsday predictions and crises facing the United States. That book looked at US headlines, but Rosenberg’s newest novel Damascus Countdown returns the idea of instability in the Middle East, the topic of Rosenberg’s earlier fiction, including his first novel The Last Jihad. This time, the action is in Iran.
 
Damascus Countdown by Joel C. Rosenberg
 
At its core, Damascus Countdown is the story tale of a charismatic leader rising to unite the Muslim world, with potentially devastating consequences. (In other words—he’s a loose cannon, loaded with nuclear weapons.)
 
As in Rosenberg’s previous books, this story builds around a Middle Eastern power struggle that off the Biblical prophecies foretelling the power struggles in the Middle East. Rosenberg mixes this with front-page style action, from the development of Iran’s nuclear program, to a failed assassination, UN diplomacies, and an Islamic coalition.
 
Damascus Countdown is third in a series on the rise of a dominant Islamic leader, following The Twelfth Imam and The Tehran Initiative. While I haven’t read the other two books, they appear to follow David Shirazi’s story through the building up to the crisis in this novel. Damascus Countdown, however, works well as a stand-alone novel. In some ways, I don’t feel a need to read the earlier books—I assume that they would be interesting also, but the book didn’t leave any significant gaps, or any gaps at all that I noticed.
 
I did get a little lost in the diplomatic side, but I enjoyed watching Shirazi work and seeing glimpses of his family and coworkers back in the US as they dealt with knowing what he was against—or not knowing at all where he was or what might be happening.
 
It all comes down to finding out which loose cannon will fire first.
 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

When Tricyles Grow Up...

...they look like this:



Oddly enough, this tractor looked so unusual that I had to take a photo. Then, the same afternoon, I saw a second one.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spring...

More evidence! Just because I like the photo.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spring Cherries:

...just because it's spring.

Yes, I know it's been spring for a while. In fact, it started looking a lot like spring about the end of March (when I took these photos). But, at least there is proof!





Lesson of the of the day...distance adds perspective, closeness adds detail. A writing blog I follow (C.S. Lakin's http://www.livewritethrive.com/) has dealt a lot with cinema techniques and how balancing distance vs. nearness can develop a story. These two photos made me think of the idea, so here they are! Crowd shot and close-up.