Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Merlin's Nightmare: The Legends

Welcome back for the third day of the CSFF Blog Tour for Merlin’s Nightmare! As before, you can find more posts from the tour here, as well as my review of Merlin's Blade and Merlin's Nightmare. Today, though, I want to talk about the legends behind Arthur and why I like Robert Treskillard’s new version of the story.

What do you think of when someone mentions King Arthur? If you are like me, you probably have a mental image of medieval knights in armor riding about the countryside doing good deeds. (Maybe the original boy scouts society?)

I do know this image doesn't fit reality. 

One of the earliest mentions of Arthur is linked to a 6th Century British saint, St. Gildas. Oddly enough, Gildas never mentioned Arthur in his own writings, even though he supposedly was born the year Arthur defeated the Saxon invaders at the Battle of Mount Badon. The reference comes from a biography of Gildas written almost five centuries later. I can guarantee that the author for that hagiography didn’t have access to the Internet, so his fact checking was probably limited to reading up on legends in the local monasteries or listening to ballads at the inns.

Most of the other major sources for Arthurian legend—and the most well-known author, Sir Thomas Malory of Le Morte D’Arthur—have about the same level of authenticity. Malory, for example, may have been a brigand-knight during the War of the Roses. Scholars speculate that he wrote his famous work while in prison. He doesn’t have history or imagination on his side, since the knights of his story sounds more like 15th Century contemporaries than true Briton heroes.

The reality is, any historical King Arthur would have more in common with Beowulf.

Growing up, I was most familiar with The Boy’s King Arthur, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth, so I certainly don’t mind Malory’s version. I love the other Arthurian stories as well, from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to Edmund Spenser’s brief encounter in The Fairie Queen. I just like knowing where the stories might have come from as well, and I also have a particular fondness for the story of the Anglo-Saxon invasion with the changes it brought to England.

That’s why I’ve enjoyed Treskillard’s Merlin Spiral so much. He takes Merlin and Arthur back to the time when they might really have lived and recreates their world in considerable detail.

Several other bloggers have noted the amount of research Treskillard put into these stories. I noticed this as well, but I also noticed the way Treskillard interprets the fragments of history we have, combining them with bits of Arthurian legend.

So, while scholars try to identify Arthur with the Roman war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus, Treskillard’s Merlin is Ambrosius, hiding under a false name to protect himself and Arthur from the murderous High King Vortigern. Arthur becomes Merlin’s foster son under the name Artorius, another legend name, suggesting that their complicated relationship explains the later muddle about who they actually were.

Even better, since we’re talking about a wild conglomeration of legends and historical fables, the Merlin Spiral goes beyond the history. I like the history, yes, but I also like how Treskillard creates a story of magic and faith, demons and monsters. 

It fits in well with the Arthurian legends and the other stories we have from ancient England—from Beowulf to the hagiographies written about St. Gildas.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Merlin's Nightmare: Review

When it comes to Merlin’s Nightmare and the Merlin Spiral as a whole, it’s fairly easy to say what I like about this series. The characters are great, the suspense is high, and the story world is amazing. (Or, shall I say, fantastic?) 

Merlin's Nightmare  -     By: Robert Treskillard
For me, though, the biggest attraction is how Robert Treskillard plays with Arthurian legends. As I said in my post yesterday, I'm reviewing Merlin's Nightmare today for the CSFF Blog Tour, and I'll put off saying much more about the Arthurian elements until tomorrow. For now, I’ll just note that I enjoyed how The Merlin Spiral recreates the story as it might have happened in ancient Briton, rather than the typical medieval England and knights in armor setting.

Throughout all three books, Treskillard weaves in well-known characters. I had a small thrill when I realized who Launcelot was, and another when Guinevere appeared. While the first two books show Merlin’s special calling as a champion of his faith and his struggle to protect Arthur, Merlin’s Nightmare jumps ahead in time to show Arthur on the brink of manhood. Merlin still wants to keep the impetuous boy in check, but also has to guide the man when the time comes to rescue Briton from here enemies.

There should be an asterisk after ‘as it might have happened,’ though. People don’t usually stumble across magical blue stones or get attacked by wolf-men. Nor do they typically find the Holy Grail, however much they might search for it.

In Merlin’s world, magic, dark powers, and visions are real. The struggle to walk in faith is also real, since sometimes the Sangraal heals, and sometimes it does not.

The books do have a few issues—mostly minor with a bit of clunky writing here and there. I felt Merlin didn’t actually sound older in Merlin’s Nightmare, even though the book is set sixteen years after the others. The books also tend to be episodic, with a dominate storyline to tie the pieces together. That’s not to say things are haphazard. Even minor characters show up for a reason, and backstory becomes very important along the way, but the details can feel jumbled or rushed together at times.

A little more important is the fact that the series is labelled YA, but the School Library Journal recommends them for high school readers and older. While some younger teens might enjoy the stories, I agree with the age recommendation and would be cautious about handing the books off to more sensitive or visual readers due to the graphic violence in all three books.

For anyone else, I think the books are a fairly fun, imaginative read. I think I would have enjoyed them even without the remix of Arthurian legends, but for me, that part adds an extra bit of excitement to the stories.  

Curious? Be sure to check out the other posts for this tour! You can find links to the individual posts here.

[My thanks to Blink/Zondervan for sending me a copy of Merlin's Nightmare, in conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour.]

Monday, August 25, 2014

Merlin's Nightmare: Blog Tour

Who doesn't love epic stories, Arthurian legends, or true love tales?

I rather like them myself, especially when they're wrapped up with a unique twist. So, I'm excited this week to be part of the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour for  Robert Treskillard's Merlin's Nightmare

In this version of the story, Merlin is not a great wizard, but a young man fighting the Druids' attempts to retake Briton for their own. In the first book, Merlin's Blade, he's just a boy--the half-blind son of the village blacksmith, when the Druids bring a mysterious, powerful blue stone to enchant his village. (Yes, it's that an entirely new story about how Merlin meets the infant Arthur.) 

In Merlin's Nightmare, Arthur has grown. Merlin has been the boy's foster father so far, but he now faces a decision to tell Arthur about his heritage. It's a dangerous time, with the Saxons securing their hold on Briton and Morgana raising a Druidic army to defeat Merlin.

This is the final book from Treskillard's Merlin Spiral series, but it marks the beginning of Treskillard's Pendragon Spiral. That trilogy is supposed to continue Arthur's story into the more well-known period of Arthur's life. 

This blog tour will be running for the next three days, and I'm going to post my review tomorrow for Merlin's Nightmare, with a bit of background for the series. I'll be back on the third day with my thoughts on the history and legends in the Merlin Spiral. It's fun stuff and not what you might expect for 'yet another' Arthurian story.

For now, I just got the second book, Merlin's Shadow, in the mail, so I'm off to read that later today. Meanwhile, you can go back to my review for Merlin's Blade. And, please check out some of the other bloggers! I've read a number of great posts during past tours, and I'm expect more of the same this time around.
Blog Tour Participants:

Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Vicky DealSharingAunt
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirriam Neal
Joan Nienhuis
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Robert Treskillard (author)
Phyllis Wheeler
Elizabeth Williams

Merlin’s Nightmare on Amazon.
Series Website:

[My thanks to Blink/Zondervan for sending me a copy of Merlin's Nightmare, in conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour.]

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Foreword to Prologues

I’ve read too much theory of writing recently. It’s starting to affect my reading.

Not too long ago, I picked up a new book—the author came very well recommended. It was a tad macabre, but the book turned out as brilliant as could be hoped for. Still, when I put it down at the end (and gave a little sigh that the book didn’t last even longer), my brain involuntarily went reeling back to the beginning of the story.

To set the stage a little—this was a detective novel of sorts, with a psychic hero w

ho sees dead people. They never talk, he’s very clear on that point, but they do want him to resolve their problems, solve their murders, and generally make it easier for them to pass on to the next life.

The book starts off with a prologue. No, the author doesn’t call it that, but it is one anyway. I have a prologue at the beginning of my current work in progress, and I call it that very clearly. It’s purpose, though, is to set the stage for the key incident in my story. The prologue in this other book is really just the first couple of chapters, but they aren’t the main story—they’re a little snippet of a story—a short story, really—set there to introduce the main character and set the stage for the bigger story to come.

According to another book, one I read this spring, that's all a prologue really is--a set piece that introduces the main character (or sometimes the villain), or else establishes a degree of tension that will carry the reader into the rest of the story.

In The First Fifty Pages, Jeff Gerke suggests using prologues to show main characters such as action heroes or detectives solving a smaller problem before going on to the big event. It lets readers see who the hero is and how he solves things. That way, they have an idea what to expect when he faces a real challenge, even if the story doesn't immediately turn into booby traps and explosions.

I recommend The First Fifty Pages, by the way. The book explained some things about plot structure that plenty of others have discussed, but it made sense to me in a way that none of the others did.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Firebird: Series Review

A royal daughter on a suicide mission, for an interplanetary war she doesn't support?

If you add a telekinetic stranger and an ancient prophecy, that pretty much describes Kathy Tyer’s Firebird, the first of five books about Lady Firebird Angelo and her family.

Sometime during my last semester of college, I ran across Firebird in the college library. I had a couple hours between classes, and I desperately needed something to read besides Bible study material and literature criticism, so I pulled the book off the shelf and started in.

Now, Firebird is not a short book. When it came time for my next class, I was only part way through, so of course, I had to take the book down to the librarian’s desk and check it out.

I really enjoyed the read at the time. Then, in August last year, I picked up Firebird again, after noticing the final book in the series, Daystar, among the 2013 Clive Staples Award nominees. I really meant to review the series back then, but late is (usually) better then never, and it's almost never too late to pick up a good read. Plus, Firebird gets another new cover this fall, courtesy of Enclave Publishing (which is itself a restart of Marcher Lord Press, a fairly popular Christian Speculative Fiction publishing house).

My description of Firebird is pretty simple, but the series is not. The original trilogy focuses on Lady Firebird’s story, but the story's background centers around a race of genetically-altered humans and the Messianic prophecy about one of their families. A remnant of these Ehretans escaped the Earth’s destruction and the more skilled became special-force Sentinels in their new home world. Firebird sticks with the classic space opera story. The rest of the series explores a lot more of the history and prophecies behind the Ehretans, while still maintaining a high level of action and suspense. 

It's hard to say anything more without giving spoilers, so I'll just recommend it with enthusiasm. I found the books highly entertaining, as well as thought provoking, and as a Christian sci-fi story, this one's a classic.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Little Traditions: The Etsy Project

This is a very brief follow up to my brief post last week. It's my current new project, related to the photos I was working on last week. After several years of storing various (dozens) or crochet projects at my family's, I finally decided to do something with them. So, I opened an Etsy shop, called 'Little Traditions.'

I hope to list more items soon, but if you're interested in checking it out, you can find it by searching Etsy for the shop name or by clicking on one of the links below.

Also, I'm offering a coupon for 20% off of purchases over $20. The coupon code is TwentyOff20. You can enter the code during checkout, and it's good through August 16th.