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Sunday, February 7, 2010

"Buddha's Thunderbolt: The Uncredulous Tale of the Wizard Merlin" by Jacob Asher Michael (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order Buddha's Thunderbolt from here
Read the first 5 chapters of Buddha's Thunderbolt here

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jacob Asher Michael makes his debut with this book which won the first prize for Science Fiction and Fantasy at the 2006 Philadelphia Writers Conference. He has also authored four award winning land planning publications besides his manuscript for Buddha's Thunderbolt. While he’s not making up tales he also works as an environmental planner and is a performing songwriter. Jacob Asher Michael currently resides in West Chester, PA.


What if everything we knew about Merlin was a lie?

What if Merlin was actually a Buddhist monk called Merthen and also prone to hallucinations! What if he was taken as a slave by the Huns and transported back to Europe? Buddha's Thunderbolt elaborates the tale of this most peculiar man, a 5th Century rationalist, who regards magic as tom-foolery, druids as buffoons, and knights as glorified thugs. The last thing he ever wants is to be mentoring an orphan boy. However he sees that this boy might be special & could carry on the Buddha’s good name!

Most folks at the bay market think Merlin is a bit mad. He claims to have traveled from Britain through India to China and back again. His surrealistic visions, from horrifying flashbacks to a chess match with Lord Ganesha, are a burden he has learned to bear. But what of the mysterious Lady Gopi, who appears to him in various animal forms? Is she a delusion as well? Read ahead to find out the truth for yourself!

CLASSIFICATION: This story is a historical fantasy with a SF twist instead of utilizing the classic origin story. The tale of Merlin is retold without magic and in its place comes rationalism and Humanism as taught by the “Enlightened one” Siddharta Gautam aka Buddha

FORMAT/INFO: Buddha's Thunderbolt is 303 pages divided into 38 chapters and an Afterword which details several historical facts. Each chapter entails a peculiar time period with the 1st chapter focusing on 480 AD and the last chapter ending with 505 AD. Narration is in the third-person omniscient and features a singular character.

December 26, 2009 marked the American Trade paperback publication of Buddha's Thunderbolt by A. V. Fistula Multimedia.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Buddha’s Thunderbolt seemed like an odd book especially since its plot combines Buddhism and the Arthurian legend. When the author approached us, I was more than curious to see how these 2 different things could have been combined into a singular story and what that outcome might be.

Author Jacob Asher Michael begins the story by introducing the reader to the character Merthen as he reminisces about his childhood while contemplating the life of an insect. Merthen is a Buddhist who though a person from the British Isles has been travelling since his childhood due to various events; part fortune and part misfortune. Merthen is a man ahead of his time and surrounded by people who aren’t trained to understand what he is and what he strives to be. The setting is also introduced as 480 AD in the Isle of Britannica, and Merthen is presented as the "Merlin" of this tale although he does not take this name and is not a wizard. Instead of having a divine/mystical foretelling, tell Merthen to take an apprentice, Merthen does so out of pity. This apprentice is known as Uther and in this case is almost the Arthur of the story.

The story then travels from 480 AD to 505 AD as Merthen partly tells us about his childhood and his travels through the known world and how he came upon to be a Buddhist. While the story progresses, Merthen and Uther encounter various personas; some of them friends, some acquaintances and many unknowns. During their travels, Merthen finds Uther to be a significant disciple and tries his best to pass on his ideals and thoughts on to him.

Michael gives reader a very well characterized story with various characters from the Arthurian tales. However there is a twist in that they are normal human beings with scruples ranging from the devious to simple honesty and all the shades between .

A unique and surprising aspect of this novel is that Merthen suffers from various epileptic episodes in which a lady known as Gopi comes in various animalistic and insect-like forms. In this form she always has many different questions for him as an emissary for various Gods from many different geographical locations/destinations.

Merthen serves as the narrator of this tale, and is a very evocative one. He tries to do what he believes is the best solution according to the way of the Buddha. He's a bit unreliable as it's hard to tell if this tale is everything he recollects or instead if there is more to the story than what Merthen is telling the readers.

There’s also a historical feel to this book as the author paints a stark picture of life in Britain in those days amidst the various tribal battles, spread of Christianity and the lifestyles of the people in general. There a couple of quips about the future rise of the British Empire, which were fun to read amidst the character talk as they contemplate their survival and the future of the land in which they live.

Buddha’s Thunderbolt is a very different read from most books dealing with this subject matter, however, the author’s simple prose makes it an easy as well as addictive read. Even though many readers already know the basic idea of the eventual outcome of the story, Buddha's Thunderbolt engages the reader and will find them trying to figure out what will happen in the story.

The big mystery at the heart of this tale, and a unique aspect of the story. Is that of the episodes wherein Merthen is visited by an enigmatic Indian Lady. Although she questions him incessantly, but does not offer him much information about herself in return. The ending is befitting this quirky story, as the reader is left to draw their own conclusions about Merthen, Lady Gopi and the Godly trial for which sufficient evidence is provided.

Merthen's encounters with Lady Gopi and the discussions regarding his actions over certain events which reveal a morally conflicted, yet fascinatingly humane character, the glimpses we get into his past and his initiation into Buddhism, were all highlights of this book for myself.

This book was an A plus read, as it was a tactful amalgamation of 2 most unlikely subjects that give us an engrossing tale. It's highly recommended for readers of historical fiction and for those who are would like to read a take on the Arthur-Merlin mythos that has never been tried before.


Anonymous said...

It's a true shame he didn't hire a designer. The cover makes me want to poke my eyes out with Buddha's Thunderbolt.

The Reader said...

@ Anon.

Somehow the cover never bothered me at all. I guess it does different things for different people.



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