Review: Melusine’s Gift by Tyler Tichelaar

One is often disappointed with independent works of art, be they movies, music or books, that try to imitate their more mainstream counterparts. It’s as if they are trying to show that they can be just as mainstream as anything else, and could easy slide right into corporate creative restrictions without having to make any sort of change. I always think that while an artist or author is still unsigned or unpublished, and have no creative restrictions from outside, now is the time to go wild! Give us your craziest, most ambitious work while there’s no one to hold you back!

Tyler Tichelaar’s Melusine’s Gift, the second book in his Children of Arthur series, does just that. I liked the first book in the series, Arthur’s Legacy, for exactly those reasons—it’s not afraid to blast off on a wave of ambition and go wild (King Arthur meets Jesus!) in a way that was dizzily intoxicating, and this book is very much the same, only far more ambitious. It is a stunning work of imagination that calls upon a great deal of knowledge about legend, literature and folklore and combines them into something new, rich and complex.

Where the first book benefitted from a knowledge of the Arthurian legend, this one is enriched by familiarity with The Song of Roland, the 11th-century epic poem, and the legend of Melusine, a figure from European folklore who is half woman, half fish, in the manner of a mermaid. Knowledge of neither is a prerequisite, however, as Tichelaar explains the histories and meanings of both characters as he goes through the story.  

The novel begins in a manner similar to the first book, but this soon reveals itself to be anything but a rehash. Adam and Anne, our central romantic couple from the first—in which Adam discovered that he is a descendant of King Arthur—are together still and have two children, Lance and Tristan. In the present day, they soon run across Merle (that’s Merlin) and hear the legend of Melusine. They travel to Melusine’s tower, where we learn that Melusine was raised on Avalon—this is apparently really in her legend, a connection to the Arthurian legend I did not know about—and soon find that while Adam may have had some illustrious ancestors, Anne may just have a few of her own… and there may be a reason they got together in the first place! Furthermore, there just might be other secrets up the sleeve of someone with a particular interest in their fates—and those of their children. Tichelaar has released three more novels in this series, making it an ambitious series of five novels in all, and I trust that several secrets, as well as ingenious interweaving of other legends, play in future installments as ingeniously as they did here.

At a certain point the novel descends into many overlapping layers of stories, stories within stories, stories within stories within stories, shifting perspectives and a dizzying array of narrative devices. The reason I say that this novel represents a stunning feat of imagination is that Tichelaar has synthesized an enormous array of literature and folklore, illuminated unseen connections between them and then filled out the rest with intriguing creative decisions of his own, adding up to an overwhelmingly dense tapestry of interwoven stories.

The book ends with a cliffhanger that points directly into the next volume, Ogier’s Prayer. I’ll be intrigued to read that one next, and discover where the story goes from here. I actually read The Song of Roland and learned about Melusine as I read this book, and look forward to learning about Ogier and more as I progress through the series.

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