When I wrote my thoughts on “Taliesin”, I had just finished reading it and hadn’t started reading “Merlin” yet. Here, I’m already starting “Bedwyr”, which is the second book in the third novel “Arthur”, and who knows how far I’ll get in the series before this actually comes up in my blog post queue (I’m running about two weeks ahead at the moment). Anyway, on to “Merlin”.
I like “Merlin” a lot better than I liked “Taliesin”. The work seems to be a bit tighter, and it’s easier for me to see the link from Merlin to the overall mythos. However, Lawhead still seems to have issues with the importance — or lack thereof — of his scenes. If this is generally considered a problem with pacing, then it’s a problem with pacing, but for me it strikes me more as an issue of emphasis … or, rather, of trying to emphasize something but not leaving enough content in those important events to make them really stand out. For instance, early in the book Merlin gets captured by some tribe, which seems to be very important to his character … but nothing really seems to happen there other than his tutoring and some kind of almost romantic relationship with one of them. The problem, it seems to me, is that the scene is too long for what happens in it, but too short given how important it is to Merlin overall. There’s no room to really do anything in that scene, but it really seems like there should be a lot more there than there is. If anything, I think this is Lawhead’s biggest weakness.
I thought that the scene in the cave with hermit Merlin would be something like that, but it worked well as Merlin recovers his ability to remember and think about what happened. Ultimately, I think that as we get closer to the legends, the work gets better, because Lawhead isn’t that great at world or character building, for the reason outlined above: he doesn’t seem to be able to think of enough things to do in his important scenes to make them really feel important, and so the gravitas of the scenes suffer. When we’re dealing with the familiar Arthurian characters, we already have a link to them, and so the scenes don’t have to carry that weight, as even some of the scenes will be interesting just because of how similar or different they are from the legends. Additionally, Lawhead doesn’t seem to be able, at least in these books, to really build the characters well as characters, so when we have an attachment to them as part of the legends he doesn’t have to do as much for us to come to know and feel for his characters, which is something that I didn’t really do in “Taliesin”.
Ultimately, I enjoyed “Merlin” a lot more than “Taliesin” … a trend that, spoiler alert, seems to be carrying on into “Arthur”.