Picking up right where The Banished of Muirwood leaves off, The Ciphers of Muirwood, or at least Jeff Wheeler, has given me hope for the middle novel of a trilogy. Wheeler talks about this in the afterword of this novel and The Blight of Muirwood and how he loves the middle novel and how it allows for characters to expand and the story to move forward. I can’t wait to re-read The Lord of the Rings and think of it this way rather than my usual, ugh the middle book. Hopefully, it’ll give me a new perspective.
This book gives us more of Maia. It goes more in-depth into her family history and answers some of the outstanding questions of the first book. I was concerned at first as it appeared to be mirroring a bit too much Lia’s journey in the Legends of Muirwood trilogy, but ultimately it was different. There will be potential spoilers to the first book in this series and to the Legends of Muirwood trilogy, so be aware.
Wheeler did a great job of describing the Medium in this book, he’s done it in others.
“One of the guiding principles of the Medium is that it connects things, like a bridge between elements, a conduit between the living and the dead. But it has power over time as well.” (385, Afterword)
Wheeler is writing the same story so many authors have written before: good versus evil. Authors must be wary of writing this story because of how often it has appeared in writing. I liked that he lays it out for you very clearly in this book.
“In every world governed by Idumea, there are mastons [good] and there are hetaera [evil]. And there are kishion [chaos?] who murder and men like the Victus who plot for power. Even if every last one of these evildoers were destroyed, others would rise up. This is a war that has been fought for millennia throughout the spinning weave of the heavens. And it will continue to be fought for all time.” (341-2)
He’s not trying to mask it. Wheeler is embracing that this is a timeless repetitive story and he’s just saying here’s my version of the struggle.
The other thing that really stood out to me was his descriptions of settings. When he described Muirwood abbey from Maia’s perspective the first time she saw it,
“The abbey rose like a mountain, giving her the same sense of wonder she had experienced looking at the various mountain ranges she had trekked through in Dahomey and Mon.” (211)
I got chills. It reminded me of what it was like to see and visit La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
In the photo on the left the very large structure (that’s one building) is La Sagrada Familia and it towers over EVERYTHING in the vicinity. This photo does nothing to show it’s grandeur, but suffice to say it was humbling. The photo on the right is a STATUE on the facade. Just the top half is at least 10 feet tall. I am not a religious person, but this building made me feel awe and wonder. It was exactly how I felt Maia must have felt when she arrived at Muirwood Abbey for the first time.
And then this past weekend we visited an orchard and I definitely spent a good 10 minutes pretending I was in the Muirwood cider orchard. I imagine the Muirwood orchard as a bit more eerie and less inviting, but that’s just because all the major moments happen there!
Apart from his amazingly rich setting descriptions, Wheeler has a way with his characters that make you grow so fond of them so fast that you can’t help but love them. I did think he was going a bit too close to George R.R. Martin gore/shock factor territory, but it was momentary and whoever pulled him back I’m appreciative.
There was a cameo at toward the end of the novel that could easily have been a bit too deus ex machina (Wikipedia link), but was thankfully explained in the first trilogy. I’m really glad they appeared and I won’t lie it brought a tear to my eye.
Recommendation: There’s so much to talk about I didn’t even get to in this response! I didn’t even go into the even more bad-ass female characters Wheeler introduced or the awesomeness that is the Ciphers of Muirwood. Suffice to say, I would definitely recommend both trilogies so far. There were more hints at what happens in The Lost Abbey, which is a graphic novel adaptation of what happens during/just prior to The Banished of Muirwood. I’m sufficiently intrigued to check it out. The question is whether I’ll want to read it before it’s serialization finishes!
Opening Line: “There was never an angry man who thought his anger was unjust. — Richard Syon, Aldermaston of Muirwood”
Closing Line: “From the crest of the hill, she could see the armada at anchor.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional Quotes from The Ciphers of Muirwood
“We all face difficulties, but they should not become our core. We grief, we suffer, we weep. Challenges are experiences that help us to grow, like the winds that help strengthen the roots of the apple trees in the Cider Orchard. Storms are always temporary and should never distract us from the beautiful days that were before or will come after. Do not become so fixed on a single injustice that you can no longer remember others may be suffering near you. Like the healing of the body when it is ill, the healing of the heart requires patience. — Richard Syon, Aldermaston of Muirwood” (34)
“Maia pitied her, truly. Maeg had been born to privilege and groomed as a member of a favorable Family, but she woul dhave to earn her place in the kingdom by manipulating the feelings of her betters. Glory was a tottering ladder to be climbed—one lie and half-truth and well-placed compliment at a time. The higher one ascended the rungs, the more exhilarating and nerve-racking the view . . . and the more devastating the fall.” (85)
“In the tome called the Hodoeporicon, there is a great proverb on anger that has always impressed me. In a controversy, the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for truth, and have begun striving for ourselves. — Richard Syon, Aldermaston of Muirwood” (255)