Merlin's Bones - Fred Saberhagen (1995)

Saberhagen is another of those old warhorse sf/fantasy authors. Most famous for the Beserker series, which has a fanatic cult following and at least two games that I know of, he's also written a series of books "setting the record" straight about Dracula, a long series of fantasy books about magic swords, and a variety of stand-alone novels. When he's good, he's very good indeed, and when he's bad he's still pretty good.

Sadly, this book is only pretty good. It's still worth reading, since it is, after all, pretty good, but it's not Saberhagen's best work. The plot concerns a search for, yes, Merlin's bones by a bunch of Arthurian characters that survived the fall of Camelot: Mordre, Morgan le Fay and the Fisher King. It jumps back and forward in time as well, with the action that takes place just after the fall alternating with action that takes place in the early 21st century.

Saberhagen weaves these strands together deftly enough, and the plot holds together fairly well, but the overall effect is workmanlike rather than brilliant. The ideas are there, and the skill is certainly there, but the whole just doesn't sing.

There are moments that are wonderful, though, and a few lovely conceits, such as the idea that all libraries are, on some level, linked and one can use the right technology or magic or combination to move between and betwixt. The start is a bit slow, but it settles into a good pace fairly early on and finishes strong.

It does present an interesting take on the whole Arthurian legend, partly by dealing with the aftermath which tends to get neglected, and for fans of the mythos/legend, it is a worthy addition to the collection.

But, to quote Berke Breathed, "it just doesn't soar, dammit."

Overall Grade: B

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