Guardian of the Balance: Merlin's Descendants #1

Irene Radford, Author Daw Books $23.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-88677-826-2
The protagonist of this first novel in a fantasy series of the tales of King Arthur is Arylwren, nicknamed Wren, daughter of Myrddin Emrys, The Merlin, and Deirdre, high priestess of the Druids. Raised among her father's wards, Wren falls in love with one such ward, Curryl, who, to no reader's surprise, turns out to be the eventual Arthur, Ard Rhi (High King) of Britain. Meanwhile, to protect her from political and religious intrigues, her father forces Wren into marriage with the abusive Carradoc, already involved in an incestuous affair with his demon-ridden, promiscuous, magic-working daughter, Nimue. Arylwren has a long and difficult journey through life, rescuing her father from Morgaine (in the novel as in legend, a sorceress) and her retainers from her husband, and eventually dying while bearing Arthur's child. This is not an impressive addition to the canon of Arthuriana, despite obvious folkloric expertise and several good passages (the two rescues head the list). Wren is more a collection of virtues than a believable human being. The author seems torn between scholarship about the Celts and modern neopagan images of them. And the sexual politics are piled on with an overly lavish hand. Much of the legend is here, including the extraction of Excalibur from the stone and the love of Lancelot and a Guinevere so pathetic one wonders what the man saw in her. Unfortunately, all the elements are so jumbled together that much of the spirit of the classic legend gets buried. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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