Merlin protects the young son of a British commander in this second installment of Mintz’s (Ambrosius Aureliani, 2010, etc.) Arthurian Tales series.
Fifth-century Europe is a fraught portion of the Roman Empire, under continuous assault by barbarians. Artorius is the 13-year-old son of Euthar Pendragon, the dead high commander of the Council of Britain. The middle-aged Merlin, who promised to care for the boy, now flees with him from their Gallic villa as raiding Huns approach. After being briefly captured by Roman soldiers—and establishing the cover identities of Budicius and Marcellus—Merlin and Artorius end up in Nîmes, where Senator Marcellus places them in charge of his countryside estate. During this tranquil period, Artorius is drawn to a sacred grove by the music of nymphs. Surrounded by sylvan beauty, he encounters and falls in love with a girl named Guinevere. After he ends up in her bed and they pledge to share their future, Guinevere vanishes. A year later, Artorius and Merlin take up Marcellus’ offer of passage to Britain. The catch is that King Thorismund, who pays their way, requires their help rescuing a captive girl named Zoe. As the mission progresses, Merlin, Artorius, and the accompanying soldiers receive few details necessary to their success. Thorismund’s deception regarding Zoe is merely the first intrigue that kicks off a perilous five-year journey. For the second volume of his Arthurian Tales series, Mintz decides to double down on the gritty swashbuckling, this time adding flourishes of primordial beauty. In the Guinevere sequence, readers find that “the glow of sunlight poured through a break in the forest,” illuminating a spring. Throughout, Mintz reveals young Artorius to possess an “innate charisma,” which he learns to harness as a leader of men in many battles and across years of travel. Because the narrative draws heavily from myths and history, it feels episodic. Merlin and Artorius often seem immune to the empire-shattering chaos around them, which leeches dramatic tension from violent scenes that grow repetitive. In the end, patient readers familiar with Arthurian legend will be rewarded with grand moments involving Guinevere and the sword Excalibur.
A more mature, battle-weary sequel that should appeal to King Arthur’s most ardent fans.