Merlin is not a magician, but a scholar and a doctor who must try to solve the mystery of who killed the king's sons. This is all very well, but the author, writing under the pseudonym JMC Blair (for good reason, it turns out), has too much history to overcome to make this novel anything but irritating. In addition, the pacing of the book is off -- the first murder doesn't even happen until forty-five agonizing pages into the book.
The primary problem with this book is that it tries too hard. It tries to overcome centuries of well-established legend by breaking the characters out of their assigned personality roles. While I applaud the attempt, it just doesn't work. The author turns Arthur into a bossy, bull-headed,petty drunk; Guinevere into a spiteful shrew; and the rest of the well-known knights into either party-going ego-maniacs, or overly-pious weenies. And Nimue is Merlin's assistant? I also question the wisdom of turning Spenser's Britomart into a knight. I can see where that interpretation might come from, as the legend is vague about what Merlin told her when she visited him in his cave, but squaring off against Edmund Spenser . . . really? There are two characters that work well in this book: Morgen and Mordred. The author does a really fine job of interpreting these two, the rest aren't well developed, and the author spends a lot of time just trying to fight the stereotypes of historic precedence.
Other problems include the assumption that it's OK to use modern terminology in conversation between the characters ("Have a good workout" says Merlin to uber-jock Lancelot); a lot of exposition where dialog and action could spare the reader the encumbrance; and an overabundance of adverbs.
I have to give the author credit, though: The idea is absolutely brilliant, and it's truly a daunting task. Unfortunately, that's precisely the novel's downfall. As mentioned above, the author is forced into the position of trying to tear down the walls of conventional Arthurian legend in order to establish his own world and characters. It does this rather self-consciously and damages the actual story in the telling.
I loved the premise of this book, but the author just isn't up to the task in this first one. I truly hope he finds his stride on the next.
22 jul 08