Writers and poets have been building on the King Arthur legends for close to a thousand years.1 We can add a new name to that list: Robert Treskillard. Merlin’s Blade is book one in The Merlin Spiral series and Treskillard’s debut novel. At the center of this story is the young Merlin; a stone with dark, supernatural powers; and a conflict between Christianity and paganism.
Treskillard takes the story of Merlin’s youth in a new direction from the traditional Merlin story. Treskillard’s Merlin is not the spawn of an incubus but the only son of two mortals: Owain and Gwevian, both of whom are the children of chieftains. Merlin’s early life is fraught with hardship and sorrow. His mother drowns. Years later, wolves severely scar Merlin’s face and eyes when he attempts to defend his half-sister from them. Although he can see colors and shapes, Merlin is for all practical purposes blind. His father, who once fought as a warrior but is now reticent about his earlier adventures, works as the village blacksmith, making nails and horseshoes and occasionally forging a sword.
Merlin has become a devout Christian despite his father’s indifference and his step-mother’s antipathy to the relatively new faith. His step-mother’s father is a leader among the druids. Merlin is infatuated with the Magister’s daughter Natalenya. The girl has treated him kindly at chapel but Merlin is so shy in her presence that he can barely talk. He has little hope of being anything other than an admirer.
Merlin’s world turns upside down with the arrival of his step-mother’s father Mórganthu, who has wrestled a queer stone from the depths of a nearby lake. Mórganthu is gathering druids from across Britain at the old standing stones circle. He plans to use the power of the stone and its connection to Belernos—a Celtic god of the underworld—to launch an uprising against the Christian faith in Britain and reestablish the power of the druids. The stone glows blue, explodes with blue flames at times, and has the power to kill. It works on people’s weaknesses, particularly lusts for gold and power, and draws them to its worship and service.
But the stone fails to bewitch Merlin, who can hardly see it. For once his blindness is an advantage, but Merlin is also having visions that take him to another world where his sight is clear and he sometimes sees the past and other times battles with spiritual forces. To add to the turmoil that the druids stir up, the High King Uther is making a visit to gather support for the war against the Saxons. Revenge and intrigue bring the confrontation between Uther and Mórganthu to a head. The future of Britain hangs in the balance.
Treskillard tells a compelling story from various points of view and manages to hold all of his material together. Although he deviates from the standard Arthur/Merlin story, he brings in enough elements from the tradition to keep us grounded in the old mythology. Readers familiar with the Arthur/Merlin legends will recognize Uther, Vortigern, Igerna, Gorlas, the Lady of the Lake, and others. Treskillard also tells us a new story regarding the sword in the stone and works the red and white dragons into his tale.
Reading Merlin’s Blade is like stepping into a familiar roller coaster at an amusement park that takes a whole new set of twists and turns. I can’t wait to see new twists Treskillard has in store for us in book two, Merlin’s Shadow.