A Brief Review of
THE HAWK AND THE WOLF.
Hardback: WestBank Publishing, 2008.
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Reviewed by Jonathan Schindler.
The Hawk and the Wolf is the first in Mark Adderley’s The Matter of Britain series and follows young Emrys (Merlin) as he wanders about Britain searching for the lost sword Excalibur, pining for his forbidden love, Boudicea, and learning how to use his gift of “the Sight.”
The book, as Adderley describes in his useful introduction, does not seek to recover the “historical Merlin,” as the horrid King Arthur (2004) film did for its namesake, nor does he attempt a rehash of Merlin the mythic character. Adderley’s tale and world is his own. Merlin’s Britain in The Hawk and the Wolf is situated somewhere between the mystical world of legend and the cold world of modern historical imaginings. (Adderley says his “aim is to tell the kind of story that would have been told in the Middle Ages,” xi.) He also chooses a unique setting for the story—the first century AD—which allows him to weave in the story of Boudicea, the doomed warrior princess on a mission to save her homeland. Adderley has certainly done his homework (and, for the reader’s benefit, he suggests some further reading), which infuses the story with rich detail.
The story of Merlin is, in the popular consciousness, closely tied to Arthurian legend. For this reason, I find Adderley’s choice to place The Hawk and the Wolf in the first century fascinating. Throughout the book references are made to a man who endured “a triple death” (scourging, hanging, and being pierced by a spear; 158) or to warriors who “all wore the same symbol, like a tree but stylized, formalized, and upon it hung a man” (175). I am uncertain where Adderley’s future volumes will go—whether they will transport Arthur back to this historical setting or leave him out completely—but Adderley’s allusions lead to the inescapable comparison of two Messianic figures and make for interesting speculation while reading.
Adderley chooses a setting when there is certainly a lot that happens, which keeps the story moving at a suitable pace. What didn’t work so well for me was his method of telling it (which hinges on Merlin’s age). The narration is in third-person and follows Merlin wherever he goes. Merlin is cast as an angsty teenager, and his emotions continually draw him this way and that. His abilities allow him to feel what others are feeling, but because his wanderings (and his age) necessitate it, his stay is brief wherever he goes. This makes it difficult for the reader to empathize in the same way. Merlin may have an attachment to characters (as even a brief encounter with other humans is liable to have an impact), but in the written word, attachments are not so easily formed. In this way, I felt left outside the drama at certain points in the story. I’m assuming the reader’s emotional distance from Merlin will lessen in future books as Merlin grows older and more stable.
Despite this quibble, Adderley has written an entertaining and engaging story, one that is likely to get more interesting and intense as it continues over the forthcoming books. He has a clear enthusiasm for his subject (which is not always the case, but is always refreshing), making The Hawk and the Wolf ripe reading material for Merlin enthusiasts and lovers of fantasy.