The Blight of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler
The Blight of Muirwood is the second book in Jeff Wheeler’s LEGENDS OF MUIRWOOD trilogy which was originally self-published and then picked up by Amazon’s 47North imprint. I thought the first book, The Wretched of Muirwood, lacked inventiveness but was generally a pleasant fantasy with agreeable characters who would most likely appeal to young adults.
In The Blight of Muirwood, Lia has been promoted out of the kitchens to serve as the abbey’s Hunter. Her new job is to protect the abbey and its inhabitants. Her job gets harder, but more interesting, when Colvin arrives with Ellowyn Demont, the princess of Pry-Ree who was being hidden as a wretched at another abbey. Lia struggles with her jealousy as Ellowyn gets to learn to read and becomes close to Colvin. Things get even more difficult when the Queen Dowager arrives to investigate her husband’s death. She thinks the Aldermaston is responsible and is intent on proving it. Most ominous of all, though, is Lia’s discovery of a blight that may be poised to devastate the land. This might take the form of war, plague, drought, or flood. Lia learns that throughout the land’s history, the Medium has used a blight to cleanse the land of evil and it seems to the Aldermaston that another season of blight is coming.
The Blight of Muirwood successfully avoids the Middle Book Syndrome; the fast-paced action continues and the story is fairly exciting, though often predictable. The plot doesn’t always keep its focus or hold together tightly, and several times I thought that characters’ situations or decisions didn’t make sense, or that there was a better way to accomplish goals. As just one small example: The Aldermaston says he thinks someone will try to kidnap Ellowyn, so he needs Lia and the Orb (which can track people) to stay at the abbey instead of going to find the bad guy who started the blight (something Lia and the Orb could have done quickly and easily). Thus, instead of preventing the kidnapping, the Aldermaston seems to be preparing for Lia to track Ellowyn after she’s been taken. If Ellowyn and the abbey’s residents are in such danger, why is Lia, a newly trained teenage girl, their only protector? Why are they not proactive by having some soldiers for Lia to command? The reason is obviously that it puts Lia where the author wants her to be (at the abbey watching Ellowyn and Colvin) and allows for a kidnapping, the eventual betrayal of the abbey, and Lia’s later encounter with the bad guy. This was all so easily prevented with the common good sense that anyone leading an abbey should have had but, of course, that wouldn’t have worked with the plot.
A related problem, as I mentioned in my review of the first book, is the magic system which is based on a sort of Holy Spirit-like force called the Medium (there are many allusions to Biblical stories and LDS theology). The problem is that Lia’s decision making is too easy because she just does what the Medium tells her to do. The Medium, which has its own will and is running the show, often gives her instructions either in her head or by way of the Orb. So, for example, if Lia needs to find someone, she just follows the way the Orb points. When she has a decision to make, the Medium often makes it for her and Lia just acts out of faith. (I’m all for faith and the Holy Spirit, but as a plot device in a fantasy novel, it’s kind of boring.) Yet the Medium’s instructions are very selective. The Medium happens to leaves Lia ignorant of the facts or plans that, if told or explained, would diminish tension for the reader. (Though some of these facts and plans were so obvious that I felt little tension.)
These small but pervasive issues kept me from feeling completely immersed in the world of Muirwood, but I enjoyed the story nonetheless. Readers who come to the series with a less critical eye will be pleased with The Blight of Muirwood. The characters are likeable and there’s lots of action. The romantic tension is done well and will especially appeal to a young adult audience (though I am not in any doubt about how it will turn out in the end).
Kate Rudd is the fantastic narrator of the audio version of the LEGENDS OF MUIRWOOD series. She handles the many male and female voices with ease and her cadence is perfect. I highly recommend the audio production.