A #WyrdAndWonder Book Review | a King Arthurian Historical Fantasy within “Bel Nemeton” (Book One: Bel Nemeton series) by Jon Black

Posted Monday, 24 May, 2021 by jorielov , , , 0 Comments

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Acquired Book By: The author approached me about this novel whilst I was preparing for #Mythothon (2019). At the time, I thought for sure I’d be able to read this novel as I was excited about reading stories involving another spin on Arthurian lore as I had read the Guinevere Trilogy by Nicole Evelina as much as I had read “Sign of the White Foal” by Chris Thorndycroft. Evelina took us through a Feminist portal into Arthurian lore focusing on Guinevere whilst Thorndycroft took a masculine perspective into Arthur himself. To follow those readings with “Bel Nemeton” which focuses on Merlin felt like the right ‘next read’ for me as I am completely caught inside this niche of interest when it comes to combining elements of Historical Fiction, Arthurian lore and Historical Fantasy.

For a variety of reasons, I was not able to read this when I expected nor was I able to read it during #WyrdAndWonder or #Mythothon (2020). This is why I slated it to be read this May, as it is the first May in four years where I’ve been migraine-free during Wyrd And Wonder. I knew it was time to soak into this story and see where Black was going to take us into this part of the continuing story set round Arthur and the rest of the characters we’ve come to know so dearly well.

I received a complimentary copy of “Bel Nemeton” by the author Jon Black in exchange for an honest review. I I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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Hallo, Hallo dear hearts!

What an interesting Wyrd And Wonder it has been this May, hasn’t it?

It has been quite a few years since I’ve had the chance to revisit my curiosity and interest in Arthurian lore and legend. I had intended to re-open this door during one of the past years’ #Mythothon, however, several cycles of @Mythothon have come and gone and I’ve not had the chance to pick up any stories even remotely mythological! I am hoping to change this come September as I plan to take part in #Mythothon once again wherein despite seeking out the group read for the RAL, I am also hoping to make progress into my readings of Norse Mythologies courtesy of this novel.

This month, I wanted to attempt to read some of the stories in my backlogue which are stories within the scope of what we love to celebrate during Wyrd And Wonder. Where genres can become bent into Fantasy and where the fantastical doesn’t have to be through a portal or dimensional shift but quietly sneak into the narrative – whether that is through Magical Realism or Historical Fantasy or another gentler route which gives just as much Fantasy for the reader as any other story. Those are the kinds of stories I was seeking out to read myself this month and I’ve found them looping back into the contemporary and modern world – as you’ve might have taken stock of  my readings for Cassandra and Tree Magic

Coming up lateron this week, will be my readings of the collective works of E. Chris Garrison wherein I get to read the final installment of the Tipsy Fairy Tales (ie. “Mean Spirit”) and the next story set in the same universe “Trans Witch”. Those also parlay between Fantasy and our modern world – through the realms of Urban Fantasy whereas the other two selections relied more on Magical Realism to set their foundations.

For me, “Bel Nemeton” occupies the other side of the ledger, which is Historical Fantasy – wherein, most of the story is rooted in a time slip narrative shifting between the historical past and re-aligning us with our modern world today as an academic is in pursuit of the truth behind the archaeological discoveries being made now which reflect new interest in the 6th Century.

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A #WyrdAndWonder Book Review | a King Arthurian Historical Fantasy within “Bel Nemeton” (Book One: Bel Nemeton series) by Jon BlackBel Nemeton
by Jon Black
Source: Direct from Author

Jon Black’s award-winning novel Bel Nemeton combines 6th century Arthurian historical fantasy with brainy 21st century pulp.

After Arthur’s death, Camelot’s fall, and his final break with Nimue, Merlin of Camelot is left with only his thirst for knowledge, hunger for new experiences, and a desire to forget. The great druid and sage leaves Britain’s shores behind, wandering the world of the 6th century. Merlin’s travels take him to the wild unknown of Dark Ages Europe, a wizardly duel deep in the Arabian Desert, the exotic riches of the Silk Road, the pomp and pageantry of the Sui Emperor’s court, and beyond.

Fifteen centuries later, time has obliterated all traces of Merlin and his journey. Almost. A chance discovery at archeological excavation in Central Asia leaves Dr. Vivian Cuinnsey, professor of Celtic linguistics, wondering if Camelot’s great druid was more man than myth. Traveling to Uzbekistan to discover the truth for herself, she is immersed in a web of intrigue revealing there are those who will kill to learn Merlin’s secret. Teaming up with morally-ambiguous treasure hunter Jake Booker, they begin their own globe-trotting adventure, racing all comers to discover the location of Merlin’s tomb. And his treasure.

Genres: Fantasy Fiction, Historical-Fantasy


Places to find the book:

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 978-1946033055

Published by 18th Wall Publications

on 16th April, 2018

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 210

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The Bel Nemeton series:

Bel Nemeton (book one)

Caledfwlch (book two) ← pub’d 30th December, 2020!
( the name refers to Arthurs sword Excalibur)

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Published by: 18th Wall Publications

Converse via: #HistoricalFantasy, #BelNemeton
as well as #KingArthur & #WyrdAndWonder

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a notation about this world:

For many of us, Merlin’s name is spelt just as it is however it isn’t the authentic spelling of his name. Black choses to use Myrddin to reflect the Welsh influence of the Arthurian legend and lore.

my review of bel nemeton:

The start of the story of course has to begin with Myrddin reflecting about what befell Camelot and Arthur’s men – how a great army such as his could be struck down and what would become of the place once revered by so many. It has such a sombering opening scene – where death and loss are bedfellows and only time with its own twist on memory is left for Myrddin to chew on. He chooses to take to the road and to his travels, whilst a knight who survived the onslaught of battle (Cei) elected to remain behind. It is realistic of how two men would choose different paths forward after an unthinkable loss and tragic end to a life they once knew of their own.

It is through the portal of that vision of the past, Black re-shifts into the present – where we meet Vivian who has an agenda of her own. And, part of that includes not letting an eager archaeologist on the opposite end of the world get too far afield for his own good when he uncovers a stone which could interlink Arthurian lore with Arthurian proof of life. The stone itself was quite an interesting example of cross-century linguistics which Black discusses in great depth. Linguistics was a field my younger self was exploring to enter until I caught sight of Archaeology and Anthropology which held stronger interests; though, the prospect of pursuing any of the fields at a University level died once I held conference with active persons in the field who explained the bare bones realities of seeking funding and maintaining an active career in academia. To say that pursuit would have given me chronic migraines earlier than they took their onset is putting it mildly. I had the best experience though an amateur History buff – whilst I explored the ruins in Mexico and saw the excavated artifacts at the museum in Mexico City. There is something to be said for climbing pyramids and walking through ancient cities – lost in time and having in fragile vulnerable balance to our modern world.

Black aligns the theory Vivian and her archaeologist are working towards reckoning by allowing us a glimpse back at where Myrddin took himself after the fall of Camelot. It was a clever way of showing how the guilt and weight of what happened affected the man and how through his travelling towards the East and back through the Silk Road lead him towards someone who could have been considered either a reincarnated Arthur or a close composite in spirit. It was there we surmise Myrddin lived his last of days – caught in the honour of service and the joys of feeling more comfortable there than he could have been in Britain. What was interesting was how Black re-assessed the artifact which was found in the present with the back-history of why that inscription might have been writ as it were through the slip in time back to Myrddin.

One of my favourite scenes was when they uncovered the eighth frescoe left behind by Myrddin as he took to his walls to paint memories and images which fondly took him back to his days at Camelot. The paintings themselves told their own tales, as we observed by the efforts of the archaeologists but it was Vivian who was more stirred by the eighth painting than the others. It was her instincts and her intuition which I felt would play a strong role in understanding the discoveries and the finds this team was unearthing to the world. Counter to those scenes, Myrddin is contemplating the end of his years in a very introspective manner. He is a deep thinker and a man who understands both time and ascension of the soul’s journey – however, to conclude his own mortality I felt was taking a bit more out of him than he felt he ought to have felt as he had lived such a dearly long time. He was sorting out his feelings about life and death – to find a way to accept the finality of what was coming and to reconcile the hours between his own birth and the day in which he would take his final journey.

When the narrative re-shifted back into Vivian’s presence overseas, the narrative becomes thinned out to the point where I was struggling to anchour myself into the plot. Then, of course, the unthinkable happens and a bit of a reckless ‘smash and grab’ sequence is happening to where a priceless artifact is stolen. The sequence didn’t work for me on a lot of different levels – though, I admit, I’m a Crime Fiction reader and watcher. I’ve watched Crime dramas since I was a kid and I’m currently binge watching White Collar which is a tautly written and continuous dramatic Crime series set against art and historical artifact crimes in both our contemporary world and throughout history. It occupies the space of the White Collar division of the FBI. Having said that – this sequence in Black’s novel didn’t feel fleshed out to me. It felt a bit forced and necessary to prove the point that the artifact in question was actively being pursued by everyone because of whom the artifact was pointing towards having a long buried secret. Yet, the actions therein just didn’t grab me at all. In fact, had Vivian and Booker managed to get away with the artifact themselves, I might have felt driven to continue reading. That might have made a big difference for me than the way it played out which was too predictable for me.

In all areas, I was missing the ‘fantasy’ bits within the elements of how the story was meant to be presented – it was a bit too obscure for me and a bit non-identifiable in the first quarter of the novel. I would have loved to have seen a merger of the mythos into the fantastical as the groundwork was already cast with Myrddin having such a strong presence of his own in the context of the opening chapters. His sequences were stimulating and keenly curious – as you get to back-track through his last hours and gain insight into his state of mind. I could have drunk in more of his passages and had less of Vivian’s truth be told as she just wasn’t as captivating of a character as I found Myrddin to be himself. I even hoped part of the plot might have provided a catalyst to show how Vivian could have been Nimue in the present day, her soul now free to re-examine her own back-history with Myrddin; whilst perhaps freeing them both outside the confines of time and history. I nearly thought Black was going to explore this option when Vivian was in front of the eighth frescoe – where Vivian was going to slip in time herself and step into Nimue’s shoes.

Part of me felt some of the journey of the story was also going to be about Bel Nemeton itself – a type of spiritual plane of existence where Myrddin might have found whilst he was still alive or in the last echoes of his life before he took that great rest into the dark night. I instead found myself a bit bogged down in linguistics and geographical points of reference which honestly droned on a bit too much for me. I seriously wanted more immediate action and/or descriptive narrative sequences which interconnected the Mythos into the Contemporary world wherein the fantasy of Camelot and the legacy of Myrddin could have crossed through time’s own arrow and portal.

Sadly, this was one story I knew I could not continue reading as it just didn’t grip my readerly interests as much as I had hoped it would have when I first started reading it. I hope it will find its audience and have readers who adore it – for me personally it simply wasn’t my cuppa of tea. I have become very familiar with this niche of genre by other writers, to where I now realise I’m seeking a particular kind of story which cross-bends Historical Fantasy, Magical Realism and Mythological Re-tellings into a new symbiosis of story. Whilst when it comes to reincarnated souls or paranormally romantic plots plots, Christina Courtenay and Kirsty Ferry has wooed me with their time slip romances which occupy that particular niche as well.

on the writing styling of jon black:

I was happily surprised to find this is a time slip narrative, as I had forgotten which way it would go as there has been too much time between receiving this novel and reading it. Sometimes I think that works in my favour as I get to be pleasantly surprised by everything. Black quickly establishes us into Vivian’s life – she’s put off by the politics of the University (which made me snort, as who wouldn’t be?) and the confines of trying to push forward with innovative ideas today which would help students of the present and those of tomorrow. She was receiving enough push-back from her colleagues and the University itself to warrant her a bit of flexible excursions elsewhere to switch things up a bit in her professional life; at least I felt she was warranted that segue! As Black slips back and forth between Myrddin and Vivian the story starts to take shape and evolves through a slingshot of compelling dramas unfolding in both timelines.

Black relies on the reader picking up his clues quick quickly and doesn’t rely on descriptive narrative to entice the reader forward but rather tries to spark their curiosity enough in the opening chapters to let them gain the momentum they need to take this international journey with him as the chase soon begins to prove or disprove the truth behind Arthurian lore. At the same time, he explains what ‘Bel Nemeton’ refers to quite early-on in the novel – as it has to do with a sacred exit from the world. Similar in context to the lore surrounding the world tree – which coincidently I showcased a story about that tree within the last year.

Curiously the book’s cover art is a celebration of the eighth frescoe by Myrddin and the scene is representing the moment Vivian first came into contact with it. The bracelet is also a key reference in the novel to both Vivian and Myrddin. I had a feeling the cover art was embracing the past and the present in this novel as time is an interesting companion in time slip stories. The art itself represents a keen insight into the heart of Bel Nemeton and the path Black took to tell this story.

Content Note:

Every so often there are a few copy editing errors – either with the wrong word or with the wrong tense being used. Usually those bits of errors are easily overlooked but for whichever reason, those errors were taking me out of the pace of this story. I continued with the story as it was intriguing but I was surprised a copy editor missed the errors themselves. Or a beta reader. Both should have caught what I had before the final copy released. After the first quarter of the novel, Black finds his pace and sticks with it – the only issue there is that I found the narrative a bit too sparse for me to lock anchour into the plot.

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I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary!
Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it.
I look forward to hearing your takeaways about this novel & the author’s guest feature.
Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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This book review is courtesy of the author:

About Jon Black

Jon Black

Multi-award winning author Jon Black Jon Black writes Historical Fiction with Pulp, Supernatural, or Mythos flavors. His award-winning Bel Nemeton series combines 6th century Arthurian Historical Fantasy with brainy 21st century pulp. Its first book, also called Bel Nemeton, won Best Thriller Novel of 2018 in the Preditors & Editors Readers’ Poll. Reviewers have called the novel “An Intellectual ‘Tomb Raider’” and “A book that makes Dan Brown weep with jealousy.”

Jon is also a two-time winner of P&E’s Best Short Story (All Other Genres): in 2017 for his Jazz Age supernatural mystery, “Gabriel’s Trumpet,” and in 2018 for his pulpy mystery (and Sherlock Holmes homage) “A Scandal in Hollywood” set in Tinsel Town’s Golden Age. His other publications include “Swinging Londons,” a novel-length Dr. Who story included in Defending Earth, an anthology of Sarah Jane Smith stories raising money for cancer research, as well as many other novellas and short stories.

Jon is also an internationally-published music journalist and music historian, a perspective he brings into much of his fiction. His other writing work includes ghostwriting, speechwriting, and roleplaying games. He has spoken on author outreach, writing for roleplaying games, and the use of music in fiction to ArmadilloCon, the Texas Library Association, and other audiences.

Jon began writing fiction when he was 43 years-old … and wishes he had started much sooner. Raised in a university town north of Dallas, Jon lived in Egypt for several years, bounced to various locations around the world, and ultimately landed in Austin. His previous jobs include archaeological excavator, Benjamin Franklin impersonator, embassy worker, graduate assistant, newspaper reporter, pizza jockey, political speechwriter, small business owner, substitute teacher, and summer camp counselor…not always in the order one might expect.

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Reading this story contributed to my #WyrdAndWonder Year 4:

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CLICK THE BANNER TO LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR YEAR 4 EVENT | READ JORIE’S YEAR 4 INTRO

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Enjoying my fantastical reviews about the worlds of Fantasy?

Ever since the beginning of Jorie Loves A Story, I have embarked on a Quest to seek out stories within the worlds of Fantasy which would heighten my awareness of the genre and give me wicked good reads – across the subniches of a genre I’ve loved since I was seventeen. Every May, I happily co-host @WyrdAndWonder – whilst throughout the months of the year, I regularly read & discuss the Fantasy reads I am discovering.

Visit my full archive for ALL my #EnterTheFantastic wanderings! As well as take a walkabout through my archives for #WyrdAndWonder – or take a walkabout through my archive for everything deemed wickedly fantastical!

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{SOURCES: Book cover for “Bel Nemeton”, book synopsis, author biography and author photograph of Jon Black were all provided by the author Jon Black and are used with permission. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Rainbow Digital Clip Art Washi Tape made by The Paper Pegasus. Purchased on Etsy by Jorie and used with permission. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: #WyrdAndWonder Year 4 banner, #WyrdAndWonder Book Review banner and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2021.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Monday, 24 May, 2021 by jorielov in #WyrdAndWonder, Arthurian Legend, Book Review (non-blog tour), Fantasy Fiction, Folklore and Mythology, Indie Author, Twitterland & Twitterverse Event




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