June 16, 2015

Lamp Black, Wolf Grey - Paula Brackston

St. Martin’s Press, August 2015

Three Stars

I realize this is a book about the legend of the wizard Merlin, and thus I should have been expecting fantasy, but I was still hoping for more of a psychological twist. However, I was disappointed. Even so, I could have dealt with fantasy, if the fantastical elements had made any sense. Legendary characters came out of nowhere, claimed to be the soul mate of a human character based on a few conversations, then disappeared. The intensity of the various love stories was completely out of line with the development of the characters – their emotions had no back story to make them in any way plausible.


Lamp Black, Wolf Grey attempts to bring together parallel timelines, but the link between them is tenuous. The only commonality was the setting of Wales – and it was beautifully described, without reverting to clichés – and Merlin’s brief appearances in both timelines. To Megan in the 13th century and to Laura in the 21st, Merlin appears to be charming and handsome – although we must take the author’s word for it, as we don’t learn enough about him to make our own judgement. I felt embarrassed for the female characters, especially Laura, as she fell in love quickly and repeatedly, with no self-respect or even self-preservation. She doesn’t seem at all concerned with how her poor decisions affect those she cares about.


Laura lost credibility with me for jumping from man to man, and not just sexually – with each man, she is completely, obsessively in love. Other minor characters appear briefly, then disappear, and we never really learn if they have significance to the story. In fact, none of the characters were developed in depth, least of all Merlin, who should have been the highlight of the novel. He could have been vivid and commanding – if you’re going to do magic, embrace it and go big! – but instead he faded into the shadows. Likewise, I was expecting the link between Laura and Megan to be developed more fully, but aside from their home, no connection between the two is convincingly made.


The ending especially was a cop out – the threat to Laura conveniently disappears into the woods, and she carries on with her charming life. I would have preferred if the novel could have veered more into the realm of the psychological, or at least left the reader wondering what was real and what was delusion. Instead, everything was laid out too clearly, without much substance. This story certainly had potential, but neither the plot nor the characters were developed fully, and I left it feeling unsatisfied. It still gets three stars however, for the lush, atmospheric setting, and the fact that others will enjoy this as an escapist summer read.



I received this book for free through St. Martin’s Press and Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

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