The Merlin of St. Gilles' Well

Ann Chamberlin, Author
Ann Chamberlin, Author Tor Books $23.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-86551-1
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-312-87591-6
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-4668-3824-6
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A rich weaving of fantastic elements with accurate historical detail and imaginative reinterpretation, this series launch covers the years 1404-1415. Yann, a Breton merchant's three-year-old son prone to fits and visions, is accidentally wounded with an arrow lofted by Sire Guy de Rais near the shrine of St. Gilles. The Hermit of St. Gilles, a clandestine practitioner of the pagan Old Religion, saves the child's life and recognizes his prophetic/clairvoyant gift. Yann's mother, Gulliamette, becomes the confidante of Madame Marie de Rais and wet nurse to Marie's son Gilles, while Yann is raised with the young lord. Guided by the Hermit and Michel, another Master of the magical almost-forgotten ways, Yann has a vision that France's salvation lies in the form of La Pucelle, an as-yet-unborn maid from Lorraine, whom he must someday assist. As Yann is trained to use his Sight, Gilles, destined to be a warrior, is also introduced to the old beliefs. Both must play a role in trying to bring balance to their land and people, a balance that requires sacrifice. The underlying theme--that good and evil are a jumble and for every dazzle there must be a shadow--should prove particularly intriguing as future volumes elaborate more of this fictional version of the historical lives of Joan of Arc and the much-maligned Gilles de Rais, as well as of the imaginary but compelling Yann. Though this volume bogs down in a predictable pagan ritual, then comes rapidly to a stopping point, it offers an expertly tailored historic setting and plausible extrapolation to support sound storytelling. Obviously meant to represent an alternative to standard history and religion, to challenge perceptions of gender roles and to comment by analogy upon modern equivalents of witch-hunting, demon seeking, hypocrisy and ignorant condemnation, this first fantasy from the author of several well-received historicals, including Sofia, the Sultan's Daughter, edifies as it entertains. (Sept.)
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