Fortress of Mist — "Merlin's Immortals" Series
This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family Thriving Family, a marriage and parenting magazine. It is the second book in the "Merlin's Immortals" series.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
In the 14th century, an 18-year-old orphan named Thomas learned he was the rightful heir to the kingdom of Magnus. With the help of new friends and books of ancient wisdom mentioned by his mother before her death, Thomas recaptured Magnus. He prided himself on regaining the kingdom without shedding any blood. He loved a woman named Isabelle, who wore a mysterious symbol she refused to explain. She betrayed him and was killed before his eyes by another man who wore the symbol.
Fortress of Mist begins shortly after Thomas' conquest. Isabelle appears to him in his chamber as a ghost, but he is convinced she is somehow still alive. Thomas receives a visit from the Earl of York. Thomas is concerned that the Earl of York plans to conquer Magnus. Instead, the Earl urges Thomas to fight alongside him and other nearby kingdoms against an impending Scottish invasion. Thomas is reluctant but realizes battle is necessary to protect Magnus. He grows to like the Earl of York, but he isn't sure he can trust the man. When they first meet, the Earl wears a ring bearing the same symbol Isabelle wore. At a later meeting, the ring has been removed from his finger.
Katherine and Hawkwood, mysterious friends who helped Thomas conquer Magnus, continue to watch out for him. They are part of another unnamed group that hopes Thomas will join them. They've remained cryptic, though; they don't know if they can trust him. Katherine loves Thomas, but he knows her only as a terribly disfigured woman he once defended. She poses as an herbalist to go with Thomas and others to war. Hawkwood warns Thomas that the people behind the mysterious symbol are evil Druids.
As Thomas, the Earl and other leaders march toward battle, the Druids try to arouse their fears and superstitions. Rare white bulls are found dead along their path with the Druid symbol between them. Soldiers are found branded with the symbol on their chests. Thomas uses archery techniques he's learned in his ancient books to frighten the Scots and win the battle. As they leave for home, he finally asks the Earl why he wore the ring with the symbol. At first, the Earl refuses to answer. When they reach Magnus, the Earl admits the ring has been passed down through generations in his family. Any time one of his ancestors refused to help the Druids, terrible things happened. He tells Thomas he was approached several times during the battle march by Druids telling him he must help them or pay the consequences. Thomas deduces that the Druids want to reclaim Magnus for their own.
Katherine hides in the walls of Thomas' chamber. She knows a Druid will approach Thomas and ask for his allegiance. She needs to hear how he will respond. She and Hawkwood are part of a group called the Immortals. They want Thomas to join them, but they must first ensure he will not sell out to the Druids. When the Druid comes to threaten Thomas, he refuses to join them and vows to fight against their evil ways.
The Earl of York's son appears before his father with a bandaged head. He is holding an ear in his hand, and he tells his father Thomas spitefully did this to him. At first, the Earl refuses to believe it. Then, to avenge his son, he plans a march to conquer Magnus. Thomas is confused when he learns the Earl of York, whom he considered a friend, is approaching to fight. He consults his books of ancient wisdom and tries to ignore the peasants as they whisper that he's been cursed. Gervaise, Thomas' confidante and mentor at the cathedral, finds Katherine and brings her to Thomas. In light of the impending battle, Thomas welcomes her but is secretly skeptical.
Thomas meets with the Earl prior to battle and learns about the Earl's unfounded anger. He vows that he had nothing to do with the son's ear and asks that his innocence be proved by ordeal. This means if he survives a horrible situation — in this case, being attacked by a herd of bulls — then he will be considered not guilty. Thomas uses trickery to drive the bulls into a mote before they reach him. After his victory, he speaks with Katherine. He says he knows she's wearing a mask so she will appear disfigured, and he demands she remove it. He expects to find Isabelle beneath the mask. Instead, he finds the beautiful woman who led him to help during the march on the Scots. Unsure what to make of her deception, he orders Katherine to leave Magnus.
Thomas grew up under the care of corrupt monks, and he despises religion. He's seen religious leaders twist Bible passages to their advantage and convince people they or their dead loved ones could be saved by giving money to the church. He once vowed he would forever reject God and all the men who served Him. After conquering Magnus, he sought some answers about God at the cathedral. He became friends with an old man named Gervaise who swept the cathedral floors. Gervaise clearly believed in God and lived in a way that showed it.
Thomas visits Gervaise before going into battle, and Gervaise promises to pray for him. He likes what Gervaise has told him about God loving the world enough to send His Son and save people through Him. He also likes the idea that one need only ask of God to receive forgiveness. Gervaise convinces Thomas to take a cross with him as he stands before the herd of raging bulls. Though the man realizes Thomas isn't relying on God to save him, he believes God has given Thomas the tools to stave off the attack. He convinces Thomas that the people will cease to be superstitious about Thomas if they believe he is fighting this battle with God's help. Hawkwood tells Thomas it is worth the young man's soul to refuse to join the Druids.
Other Belief Systems
The peasants are extremely superstitious. They believe herbalists may be witches or have supernatural powers. When they see the murdered bulls, they cry out that they are fated to doom, and there are demons upon them. Anytime something frightening happens, they believe it is God's judgment coming down on them.
When the Earl of York marches to attack Magnus, the peasants are convinced Thomas is cursed. Magnus was founded by the wizard Merlin. Thomas learns Druids have high priests and practice black magic. They often gather deep in the forests to perform their rituals, some of which include human sacrifices. They study philosophy, astronomy and the lore of the gods. When Romans overran the area, legend says Druids were forced to accept Christianity. This drove their evil practices underground.
Thomas and the army come upon two dead bulls dripping with blood and covered with flies. The bulls have had their eyes gouged out, the bodies have been burned, and pieces of entrails are draped over nearby tree branches. Soldiers are found branded with the Druid symbol on their chests, the burned flesh oozing with puss. Their tongues have also been removed. The Earl tells Thomas when an earl five generations earlier refused to help the Druids, he died a painful death. Worms consumed his still-living body. Doctors and witches were summoned, but no one could cure him. His deathbed screams echoed for weeks through the castle.
The Earl of York's son comes to him with a bloody, bandaged head, holding an ear in his hand. He tells his father Thomas did this to him. Thomas, the Druids and the Immortals use herbal potions to poison people or alter moods or bodily states.
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Alcohol: The Earl of York wonders why Thomas doesn't serve him wine. Thomas replies that wine tends to encourage sloth. The peasants celebrate the victory over York with wine.
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Readability Age Range
12 and up
WaterBrook Press, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc.