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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Monday, August 02, 2004

Merlin's Bones by Fred Saberhagen. New York: Tor, 1995. ISBN: 0-312-85563-X.

It's embarrassing to admit that I just might have read this book before, but am not altogether sure. After a while all those books you've read begin to blur together. As I was reading it this time, some parts seemed familiar, with a sense of déjà vu, but other parts seemed altogether new. I suppose it is possible that I read an earlier version published as a short story or novelette somewhere, which was later expanded to the full novel, but it is equally possible that I just forgot. Oh well.

This is one of the stranger Arthurian novels you're likely to encounter. It is a weird mix of contemporary science, time shifting, fantasy elements and magic. Merlin himself seems to have lived his life backwards, but during most of the story his bones lie crumbled to dust in a cave under an enormous pile of rocks and boulders. Nevertheless, the virtually immortal wizard is still able to exert considerable influence on events and people around him.

In addition to Merlin, Morgan le Fay (King Arthur's half-sister, and a formidable magician herself), Mordred and the Fisher King, an enigmatic figure featured in some of the Arthurian legends and stories, all appear to be capable of manifesting themselves through time and space, and to appear in the 21st century almost as easily as in their own. Arthur himself is alive, but unconscious and wounded, and gets trucked all over both the physical and magical landscape in a modern ambulance.

The story itself features an interesting cast of characters, including a wandering troupe of entertainers, a Viking chief, and a modern scientist named Elaine, who is apparently the spitting image of Guinevere, herself practically the only major player from the original Camelot who fails to make an appearance.

Despite its eminent readability, and some fairly interesting plot twists and turns, the book ultimately fails to accomplish a significant addition to the Arthurian oeuvre. Too many loose ends are left dangling (example: exactly who is the Fisher King, and what is his motivation in all this?) and the story remains unsatisfyingly fragmented. My sense of disbelief was stretched a little beyond its normal suspension ability. Dubiously recommended, especially for Arthuriana aficionados.

Other Saberhagen titles in this blog:
  • The Last Book of Swords
  • The White Bull


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