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Merlin's Gift
Ian McDowell
Avon Books, 251 pages

Merlin's Gift
Ian McDowell
Ian McDowell has published stories in such magazines as Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and in anthologies such as Love in Vein, Borderlands II and The Year's Best Horror Stories. Merlin's Gift is a sequel to his first novel, Mordred's Curse. He lives in Greensboro, NC.

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A review by Stephen M. Davis

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The only problem with being a book reviewer is that almost everything I read has been assigned; thus, I knew nothing about Mr. McDowell's Arthurian series until the second volume showed up in the mail.

I have to say that I'm as impressed with Merlin's Gift as I was with The Once and Future King, and for me, that's saying a lot.

Mr. McDowell has put a twist on the Arthurian legend, telling his story from the point-of-view of Mordred, the once-antagonist, now reservedly-trusted son of Arthur. The author gives Mordred an intelligent and refreshingly funny tone, leaving Arthur's son as one of the last pagans at Camelot in a world that is becoming increasingly Christian in its practices.

In Merlin's Gift, Guinevere's little sister, Nimue, is beginning to grow a penis. Yes, I too thought this was a strange way to start a book, but Mr. McDowell actually makes this work. According to Merlin -- and Merlin is not the comfortable mage we're all used to, but a pedophiliac, psychopathic dwarf -- Nimue has always been a boy, but did not begin growing a male sex organ until she/he reached puberty. Merlin is quite smug in his belief that he is the only one who can give Nimue what she wants: the chance to become a woman.

In the meantime, Mr. McDowell writes a nice battle scene, comes up with some imaginative, mildly disgusting mannerisms for his Dark Ages characters, and manages to flood Camelot with a fount of sweet, red wine.

This is the sort of book that would be outright foolishness if it weren't all managed so deftly by the author.

I don't think I would recommend this book to anyone under the age of fifteen. The general theme is a bit on the warped side and may have a tendency to cause the reader to question his faith, creed, and general sense of morality. Did I mention that Merlin has uses for all the various bodily fluids?

If, though, you enjoy good writing and you are not too married to a traditional telling of the Arthurian story, I think you will enjoy this one.

Copyright © 1998 by Stephen M. Davis

Steve is faculty member in the English department at Piedmont Technical College in Greenwood, S.C. He holds a master's in English Literature from Clemson University. He was voted by his high school class as Most Likely to Become a Young Curmudgeon.


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