The DWJ Project: The Merlin Conspiracy

At the request of elaine_th.

This is, as mentioned before, a sequel of sorts to Deep Secret, albeit a loose one. The only significant connection is the re-use of Nick Mallory as a character; Magids also appear, but this book has much less to do with the Upper Room and other Magid affairs, being mostly about the world Blest.

Like Deep Secret, though, it divides itself between two protagonists: Nick, who gets flung out of our world and has to help three people before he’ll be able to come home, and Roddy (Arianrhod), a Blest girl who’s trying to stop the titular conspiracy. She, of course, is one of the three people Nick helps (or rather, promises to). And then there’s Romanov, a very powerful magician who starts out seeming like an enemy, but ends up being more interesting than that.

In one structural respect, I think this one works a bit more smoothly than Deep Secret did: the alternation between Nick’s pov and Roddy’s jerks around much less than the Rupert/Maree equivalent. This may partly be because the narration is less explicitly framed as taking place at a specific point in time; aside from the opening couple of lines, that drops away until nearly the end of the book. (Contrast Maree’s entries, which were being written more in realtime, which caused unfortunate difficulties.) The flip side is that Nick and Roddy spend much less time on the page together; they’re off on near-separate tracks until about page 360.

Which got me thinking: of the DWJ books I know well, nearly all of them are either written from a single pov (third limited or first), or the omniscient perspective of a narrator. The exceptions are all later books: these two and Enchanted Glass; maybe others I’m not remembering. So I’ll put it to the LJ hive mind and ask, is this impression correct? Are pov shifts something she started doing later in her career? Because they don’t feel like something she was entirely comfortable with on a technical level.

As for details of the plot, we go behind a cut for that.

So, as much as I like Nick, I think I would have been fine with this just being Roddy’s story. It’s really about her world, and the people she knows, with the exception of the Prayermaster’s minions and Romanov. But those don’t really feel like they’re about Nick, either; he’s an outsider to all of it, connected largely through coincidence. If the false Merlin had been somebody from Blest, rather than Japheth, there would really have been no need for any non-Blest plot at all.

Having said that, there are a lot of little touches in here I do enjoy. Mini the elephant, for one, and Helga the goat; on a less funny note, the rather unflinching matter of the hurt woman and what her village did to her. I would have liked more development of that, actually — who she was, and why (other than simple pragmatism) Grandfather Gwyn sent Roddy to collect her knowledge. I also would have liked more denoument, since the upheaval from raising the land has clearly, well, altered the magical landscape. Quite literally.

It reminds me a lot of Charmed Life, though, with the “lower class” magic types rebelling against control from above — especially since Grundo’s betrayed by his own family. (In fact, if they hadn’t subbed in Nick as the sacrifice, it would have been even more like Charmed Life.) The Izzies remind me of how Sophie and the others make use of Valerie’s tantrums in Castle in the Air, and they seem to fit a general pattern in these books of “obnoxious =/= either useless or evil.” They’re amoral little monsters, sure — but then again, so is Grundo occasionally (i.e. that spell on Roddy), and many others throughout her oeuvre. That doesn’t stop them from sometimes being good guys, or at least useful.

Expect another post soon, as I finished a second book before I got around to posting about this one.

0 Responses to “The DWJ Project: The Merlin Conspiracy”

  1. fjm

    I think the Izzies tho are given a way out. Their narrative is of a co-erced life story. By the end, they have realised that they don’t have to follow that story, and hence don’t have to compete/collaborate. They are in many ways the classic child-actors who decide to get out.

    • Marie Brennan

      That’s true. I tend to forget it because their behavior annoys me so much, but there is indeed a good reason for them being so obnoxious, and an exit from that behavior in the end.

  2. elaine_th


    Thanks for taking up this book. Looks like you articulated what I remember of my own problems with it. Although I think I’ll have to give it another look, if only to refresh my mind on the hurt woman and her village. Mostly I remember Mimi, the elephant, and a general sense of disjointedness about the book, that it doesn’t quite know what to concentrate on. It’s the only DWJ I’ve never reread.

    Yes, for DWJ pov shifts seem to be a late development. Besides these two, _The Pinhoe Egg_ has them, rather better handled than here. And Chrestomanci and Cat which makes it better, in all ways.

    Correction: The Magicians of Caprona which is an early book, also has pov shifts between Paolo and Tonio. The resident 14 year old just reminded me. Which reminds me of a short story by DWJ somewhere that seems set between TMoC and other Chrestomanci stories, as Tonio seems to be there. Was it Carol Oneir?

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: Thanks!

      Ah, good catch on The Magicians of Caprona; please thank your resident 14-year-old. 🙂

      I don’t remember the short stories very well, but I’ll report back when I get to them.

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