The Merlin of the Oak Wood
is the sequel to The Merlin of St. Gilles' Well
and book two of the Joan of Arc Tapestries, a series that seeks to be to the Maid of Orleans what Mary Stewart's classic Merlin novels are to King Arthur. Ann Chamberlin's entertaining Joan of Arc novels may be read with equal validity as high fantasy, historical fantasy, or secret history. Pagan readers will enjoy the series, but devout Christians may be disturbed by the way it explicitly connects the saint to Celtic paganism.
Opening in the Year of Grace 1425, The Merlin of the Oak Wood follows Jehannette d'Arc through childhood and young womanhood to her acceptance of the mysterious voices that summon her to fight for beleaguered France. The novel also continues the stories of the two main characters of the previous book: Jean Le Drapier, now the powerful Merlin of St. Gilles' Well, and Gilles de Rais, the valiant and troubled French nobleman who fights the English invaders, and who will one day become the murderous Bluebeard. The second book in a series, The Merlin of the Oak Wood is obviously a bridging work, with the inevitable lack of a definitive conclusion, but it ably continues the story of Jeanne d'Arc and her allies-to-be.
A two-time winner of Affaire de Coeur's Best Foreign Historical Award, Ann Chamberlin has also written Sofia, The Sultan's Daughter (winner of the 1998 Critic's Choice Award for Overall Historical), The Reign of the Favored Women, Tamar, and Leaving Eden. --Cynthia Ward
From Publishers Weekly
Smoothly blending the real and the magical, Chamberlin puts French history to masterly use in another appealing chapter in her medieval saga centered on Joan of Arc. (Despite the title, "the great magician Merlin in ancient days" is mentioned only twice by name.) In the first volume, The Merlin of St. Gilles' Well (1999), Joan figured in the visions of a young peasant boy-turned-magician, Yann. In the present novel the teenaged Joan, still called Jehannette, takes center stage, already possessed by "Voices." Amid credible scenes that range from ordinary rural life to the ravages of war, Joan encounters a host of historical characters, including the weak Dauphin, who later becomes king, and Robert de Baudricourt, governor of Vaucouleurs, who supports Joan after she predicts the siege of Orleans. Most prominent, though, is the dashing Gilles de Rais, who appeared in the earlier book and has yet to devolve into the sexual monster and child murderer of Bluebeard legend. Yann, "milk brother" to Gilles, also returns to play a key part. The author is particularly good at adumbrating the paganism lurking beneath the Christian surface of the early 15th century, when people took witchcraft seriously indeed. Since Joan is only starting her eventful journey, the novel lacks a strong climax, but this is to be expected in a series that fans won't want to see end. Chamberlin deserves an honorable place in the company of such writers as Twain, Shaw and Anouilh who have dramatized the life of the Maid of Orleans.
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