Often when I read, I have music playing softly in the background. Usually this is just the eclectic assortment of iTunes, but not always. Tonight I opted to lounge on the couch while I finished this book, and the record player happens to sit nearby. In the interests of not distracting myself from my reading, I chose something lyricless and not too intrusive. Disney’s Fantasia. Why is this relevant? Because in listening to sides I, II, III, and VI, I managed to miraculously time it so that I was listening to “Night on Bald Mountain” during the climactic battle with the demon and “Ave Maria” for the tearful denoument and conclusion.
No wait, you need a little more background first.
This was Guardian of the Vision, book three of Merlin’s Descendants and what I consider to be the strongest book in the series. Although the prologue begins at the end of Edward VI’s reign, followed by Bloody Mary Tudor, the main monarch of this book is Elizabeth I. The family having been renamed Kirkwood from Griffin (per the dying wishes of John Plantagenet to Resmiranda), they retain the tradition of naming the eldest (legal-born) son Griffin. Griffin, elder than his twin Donovan by an hour at most, is the protagonist. He is also a Catholic priest, having forsaken the barony in this pursuit.
Griffin and Donovan are truly two halves of a whole. Not only do their strengths and weaknesses complement each other, but they easily express two sides of any argument. Griffin was always the designated heir – not only to the land but also to the magic. Donovan had potential, but no real power that he could access. And, of course, the dogs chose Griffin.
The world of Elizabethan England was a much wider one than what we’ve seen previously in this series. In Arthur’s day, the mainland was far away and somewhere to go for dire escape and no return. In Resmiranda’s day, the barons were forced to choose England or France, not being permitted to retain lands on both sides of the Channel. And she, being the last heir of her generation, could not be spared to leave England defenseless.
As part of becoming a Catholic priest, Griffin leaves for Paris, where he spends five years before finally returning. Later in the story, he ventures also to Rome and Spain as well as returning to Paris. Admittedly, we don’t see nearly as much of these other locations as we do of England, but it helps drive home the fact that travel is much easier in the 1500s than it was previously, and the world is more connected than it was.
I should also mention there are three main traits that run in this bloodline. First is obviously the magical talent that marks our protagonists in every book. Secondly are twins – originally seen in Myrddin Emrys and Dyfrig, then shoved in our face with Griffin and Donovan. Lastly, and not super important until book four, is madness. In Guardian of the Balance we get a brief glimpse of Myrddin and Dyfrig’s mother, whose mind is stuck in a time when her sons were still infants. In Guardian of the Trust the madness is seen in Henry Griffin when he returns from the Crusades…although that’s probably more along the lines of post-traumatic stress. Here in Guardian of the Vision it is Griffin and Donovan’s sister Meg who spends the entire book insane – the prologue is predicated on avenging her rape, which broke her mind.
The ending of this book bears the most resemblance to the first, but it resonates much more powerfully this time. Before, the ending seems tacked on to the traditional Arthurian tale. Here, Radford has created a new story out of historical events, and actual past figures are peripheral to the main plot. (Like Guardian of the Trust, this book also opens with a cast of characters denoting historical figures.) So the climax and conclusion are exactly what they needed to be and should be for maximum impact.
These first three books are the ones that focus on a religious conflict in some way. Here it’s made far more obvious by the very fact that Griffin is a priest. Even so, he still has his magic and must make his peace between his faith, his church, and his power. This is the core of the book, and why the music was so very fitting. After all, what animation did Disney choose for this? “Night on Bald Mountain” features a demon (Satan, I guess) and his minions causing trouble and reveling in it all night long. However, as dawn breaks, the church choir’s hymn spreads throughout the land, banishing the demons back to their darkness and welcoming the light back. The demons aren’t vanquished or otherwise destroyed, but they are beaten back to make way for light and life and goodness.
“No matter what name you call G-d, be certain She is listening,” is the advice Griffin is given throughout the book. Not that Guardian of the Vision is the first time we see this concept in Merlin’s Descendants. I think Wren may have been the first to give voice to these words, although I’m not pulling the book out to check. There’s also another interesting line here about the Church’s fundamental purpose being that of control. Really, I think that applies to any organized religion. I’m not saying faith is bad, but when we create these massive constructs of community, we give over part of the control of our lives over to them. In some cases more than others. Then we get those who are ignorant and trusting of the organized religion and expect it to spoon feed them the answers unquestioningly, with no way of knowing truth from falsehood. You can draw your own parallels.
You may also notice that Guardian of the Vision took me two days to finish, as opposed to a single day for Guardian of the Trust. Well, there are two reasons for that. Firstly, I didn’t get to read on lunch yesterday. Secondly…this book was too good to just rush blindly forward. Oh yes, I was so enthralled by book two I couldn’t put it down. But in this case my reluctance to pick the book up was because I didn’t want it to end too soon. Yeah, you can call it weird that the Jewish girl finds the book about the Catholic priest to be the one that touches her most deeply. But truth is truth. I have no problems with reading books about other religions or starring deeply religious people of different persuasions…as long as they aren’t trying to make me feel negatively about my own religion. And considering the open-hearted message quoted throughout, I couldn’t possibly feel attacked by what Radford’s written.
Oh yeah, and there’s elves on the cover of this book. Not even touching that.