“The hard bed, the stool beside it, the stark cross on the wall, each cast shadows. Only the man in the bed seemed shadowless. He was the stillest thing in the room.”
If you’re a reader of fantasy, there are some names you just know. Two of those names are Merlin and Jane Yolen. Just as Merlin is synonymous with mystery and magic, Jane Yolen is synonymous with quality fantasy writing. Combining her skill with the timeless allure of Merlin is, of course, a lightning strike of brilliance.
Yolen has written books which feature Merlin many times. Her Young Merlin series, geared toward middle grade readers, is great. I went into Merlin’s Booke expecting Yolen to lend an authority bred of familiarity to this anthology. She more than delivered. Merlin’s Booke is a captivating collection which showcases the many facets of the notorious druid.
This book is bound by a common thread of character. However, each story and poem are wildly different from the one that precedes it. While this could come across as jarring, I loved it. Merlin is a character that escapes the bounds of realties and the rules of myth; why shouldn’t each story about him also defy categorization?
Of course, not every entry was a huge winner for me. “The Gwynhfar” was a bit much, veering into caricature territory. Its inclusion felt a little flat, especially when compared to some of the other entries in this anthology. Of course, it was still well-written which is part of the reason I was disappointed by it. It had so much potential, but I didn’t like the finished product.
On the other hand, most of the stories were masterful glimpses into the many iterations of Merlin throughout legend. My favorite story by far was “Wild Child”, which followed a boy more feral than not. This young Merlin was untamed and unfettered, and filled in gaps between child Merlin and the adult wise man. The language was simple yet full of magic lurking just under the surface. It is also an early sketch of what eventually became Passager, the first book in Yolen’s Young Merlin trilogy.
While there were a couple of stories that I didn’t quite love, I thought the poems were all fantastic. Yolen’s use of cadence is nothing short of brilliance. It added so much to a collection already rife with enchantment, of the literary kind (books are magic, after all).
The tone of the book shifted from tale to tale, a display of Yolen’s impressive writing ability. While I do feel that her most recent anthologies are more polished, there is an allure to this book. I like the variety of stories and that the thread between them is really rather tenuous. I love that it is evident that Yolen is an expert in Arthurian lore.
Merlin’s Booke is an engrossing collection that will appeal to fans of Arthurian fantasy and fans of Yolen alike.