"Before the round table...before Arthur was crowned...there was Merlin." A meteorite has crashed to the ground, bringing with it an ancient stone, that threatens to destroy Merlin's village, family, and all of Britain. All who see the stone are bewitched by its power, and the druids of Britain band around it, hoping to overthrow the power of Jesu in the British Isles. The only one who can withstand the stone's power is the half-blind blacksmith's son, Merlin. Despite the incredible odds, Merlin battles the power of the stone and fights to save his village and the name of Jesu.
The book has a solid set-up — the plot is by far the strongest aspect of the book — but everything bogs down in the beginning. Set-up is slow, characters are introduced, and everything takes on a languid pace. I nearly put the book down only a few chapters in. But things pick up nicely about a third of the way through, so that by the story moves along in quick succession. Indeed, the plot is very original and very thought-out. Treskillard's good guys face the longest odds I've seen in a book since the Lord of the Rings. While everything is stacked against the heroes, nothing seems forced or rushed as the climax evens out into a solid resolution.
All of the peripheral details fall into place beautifully as the book wraps up. Robert Treskillard has managed to weave a tale that is not only exciting and interesting in its own way, but ties in well with innumerable aspects of Arthurian lore. The story tells not only of the origin of Merlin, but also of many of the best-known bits of Arthurian legend (My personal favorite is Treskillard's explanation of the Lady of the Lake, which is just fantastic). These are the spots where the story really shines: the author has done his research, and it shines. In that regard, the book is absolutely a joy to read.
I loved the father son relationship of Owain and Merlin. Some parts were inelegantly 'dumped' on the reader (particularly Owain's past), and yet I love how Merlin seeks to emulate his father and the values he holds. Family is worth fighting for, as Owain and Merlin exemplify. Manhood is woven throughout, as Merlin goes from an awkward blacksmith's son to a man, the protector of his lady. I love the relationship between Natalenya and Merlin, even if it was cheesy at first. Merlin's Blade goes a long way to show manhood in action, backed up by courage and bravery that doesn't come from a perfect hero. Taking the book as whole, with some time to digest, these and other themes show themselves.
That being said, first impressions were not nearly as good. I wasn't impressed with this book when I picked it up. While it's solidly written, the book is no instant classic, and unfortunately the beginning is the worst. In addition to a slow story, there's a lot of corny dialogue (Merlin's conversations with the beautiful Natalenya are a good case in point), as Merlin seems more "written to sound awkward" than actually "awkward." Thankfully, by the end Treskillard definitely hits his stride. Despite the corny dialogue, I was impressed with how Natalenya and Merlin move together naturally — instead of the normal microwave-popcorn romance that's all too common in fantasy. While I wouldn't say that the book is masterfully written, it's definitely well-done, so that while reading I stayed (mostly) immersed in the story rather than noticing unnatural dialog. It's no Tolkien or Lewis, but it doesn't need to be. Treskillard has his own style and I'm looking forward to seeing it mature over the course of the rest of the series.
Speaking of which, Merlin's Blade sold me on the rest of the series, which I was not expecting. Treskillard accomplished the difficult task of winning me over from a mostly negative first impression. By the end, I was convinced. There may be a lot of Arthurian legend already on the shelves, but Merlin's Blade is new and unique. It's well worth the read and bears future promise as the series draws itself out. I'll definitely be looking for the next books (Book 2 is Merlin's Shadow, which has just now been released)
Buy Merlin's Blade on Amazon and Support ItB!
I received this book for free from BookSneeze and Zondervan publishers. I wasn't required to give a good review (as you can see, I was pretty critical), but it did mean I got a free book - so you may see a giveaway soon. Stay tuned!