Wednesday, July 1, 2015

"Lamp Black, Wolf Grey": Review by Madison Lindstrom

"Lamp Black, Wolf Grey"
by Paula Brackston

Review by Madison Lindstrom
Editor's Note: Normally I wouldn't accept the offer of a review ARC that is mainly fantasy rather than having a fairy tale emphasis. However, I know many of those who love reading fairy tales, also love the Arthurian legends so I'm making an exception, especially knowing there are quite a few Brackston fans among readers here. Take it away Madison!
Jacket description: 

Some landscapes hold more magic than others. Artist Laura Matthews finds her new home in the Welsh mountains to be a place so charged with tales and legends, so teeming with the force of the supernatural, that she is able to reach through the gossamer-fine veil that separates her own world from that of myth and fable. She and her husband Dan have given up their city life and moved to Blaencwm, an ancient longhouse high in the hills. Here she knows that the wild beauty will inspire her to produce her best art. And here she hopes that the powerful nature of the place will give her the baby they have longed for for so many years. But this high valley is home to others, too. Others such as Rhys, the charismatic loner from the croft, who pursues Laura with a fervour bordering on obsession. And Anwen, the wise old woman from the neighbouring farm who seems to know so much but talks in riddles. And then there is Merlin. 'Lamp Black, Wolf Grey' tells both Laura's story and Merlin's. For once he too walked these hills, with his faithful grey wolf at his heel. It was here he fell in love with Megan, nurse-maid to the children of the hated local noble, Lord Geraint. Merlin was young, at the start of his career as a seer and magician, but already his reputation had gone before him. When he refuses to help Lord Geraint it is Megan who will pay the price.
The heart of any story is belief.  The reader must trust the author to lead them through the narrative and fairy tale stories have the added dimension of dealing, by nature, with the unbelievable. Paula Brackston’s latest novel, Lamp Black, Wolf Grey, delivers vivid world-building and a location-rooted story you can trust to take you through the elements of the unknown. Similarly to her novel, Silver Witch, this book also brings together characters from separate times, past and present. For Lamp Black, she 
combines the mythic world Merlin inhabits with our own mundane present, and draws each in lyrical and authentic prose.

Merlin is the story’s major rooting point to the mythic and his story transcends the separated worlds and characters.  He exists in a romanticized medieval time with his lover Megan, but lives also in present day, where he meets Laura Matthews. Laura and her husband have moved to the hills in a last-ditch attempt to have a baby and save their marriage. By happenstance, these are the same hills Merlin haunts. While Merlin is the connecting character between the plots of two mortal women, it’s unclear whether he is immortal or if his presence in the present day exists only in a separate story realm which Laura has insight into.

Brackston uses Merlin as archetype rather than character. This Merlin is a younger version than typically seen in Arthurian legend and has been given a new lover, Megan. Having Merlin in this story, considering he is such a solitary character, is an interesting juxtaposition with the other theme of the story—love, both romantic and maternal.  Two main plot points revolve around Laura’s desire for a child, as well as Merlin’s relationship with Megan.  Placing Merlin against this background humanizes him to an extent that most legends don’t. 

Lamp Black, Wolf Grey, has all the elements which make this a wonderful fantasy tale. A mythic past, Celtic magic, true love, and the most recognizable of all wizards: Merlin.   If your interest lies in the nitty-gritty of the Merlin legend, this book is not for you.  For the rest of us, however, Paula Brackston creates a sensory world, and her book offers an undemanding, entertaining experience. Her descriptions of medieval life made me want to curl up in a castle turret and watch the world go by. I recommend Lamp Black, Wolf Grey to lovers of the country-side, and to readers looking for an accessible story.
Disclosure: A complimentary ARC was given by St, Martin's Press in exchange for an honest review.

Madison Lindstrom is currently an undergrad in Creative Writing. She lives in a small, mountainous town, but dreams of traveling the world. She also loves reading, writing,  mythology, and of course, fairy tales.   Find her at

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