Merlin’s Charge, Peter Joseph Swanson

While on a grail quest, accompanied by various tired and forgettable characters, a horny, pessimistic Merlin does his best to jade an adolescent, and very green, Arthur into despising politics and people.

After reading this book I can’t tell you what Arthur’s interests and favorite pastimes were. I can’t even tell you what color his hair was. But I can tell you all about his wet dreams: what he saw, what he felt, and how he cleaned himself up. So it was with other characters too. The first 1/3 of the book was so unbalanced in this manner that if I hadn’t had a personal motive (I met the author through a writer’s social-networking site) I would have stopped reading.

Another gripe, all 220 pages of this book added up to make one very long chain of chatter. Talk, talk, talk. I felt like I was at a never-ending ladies’ quilting bee! More than once I screamed inside my head, Please stop talking! Just for a second! Perhaps this was meant as an experiment, but in my view it failed and should have been abandoned early into the project.

What’s more, the tone of the conversation never seamed to change. The celebration of a wedding, the slaying of a defenseless blind-man, the press of eminent danger was all revealed to us through generic comments inserted into the relentless barrage of chatter. Characters that were excitable were always agitated. Those that were prone to casual cynicism were always offhanded and negative. Really annoying.

Merlin’s Charge wasn’t all bad, however.

Whether or not it’s true, I’m convinced that Peter Joseph Swanson has done his homework. He struck me as very knowledgeable about medieval times, magic, grail quests, etc. It was great to hear about pursuits and lifestyles of the day. PJS pointed out that things like bridges were considered modern technology, horses were still a luxury, and cobblestones and paving of any kind practically didn’t exist yet.

Also very interesting, with Christianity on the rise and paganism just starting to move toward the background, PJS compared and contrasted various points of both religions all through the book: the differences between wedding and burial ceremonies, explanations for drought and other weather patterns.

I loved PJS’s interpretation of the Holy Grail: a magic cauldron with an endless supply of food. This cauldron does indeed grant life to the town that possesses it and would be far more desirable to its impoverished people than eternal youth or some such.

I also liked the most important plot point. An evil pict-witch steals the Holy Grail, changes its purpose from good to evil by inverting it, and uses it as a demon bell. If she can steal a holy bell from an abbey and turn it evil, also by inverting it, all is lost. So it falls on the future king and his enslaved teacher to save the wasteland.

To sum up, if you love sarcasm and dark humor under any circumstances, definitely pick this one up. If you’re interested in medieval history this might be worth wading through. Otherwise, don’t worry about it. There were some cool things in this book, but I hope to soon find out what the trade value is for a used copy of Merlin’s Charge.


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