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Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

Title: The Crystal Cave (Arthurian Saga Bk 1) by Mary Stewart

Publisher: William Morrow

Pages: 529

Genre: Historical Fantasy

From Amazon: “Born the bastard son of a Welsh princess, Myridden Emrys -- or as he would later be known, Merlin -- leads a perilous childhood, haunted by portents and visions. But destiny has great plans for this no-man's-son, taking him from prophesying before the High King Vortigern to the crowning of Uther Pendragon . . . and the conception of Arthur -- king for once and always.”

We first meet Merlin as a six year old boy living in his Grandfather’s castle with his mother Niniane. As a bastard child he is treated no better than a servant, due in part to the fact that his mother refuses to disclose the identity of his father. He proves to be no ordinary child, knowing things that no child his age should possibly know. As Merlin grows older he falls under the tutelage of Galapas, a wise old man who lives in a cave near his home. At the age of twelve, Merlin’s grandfather dies and it becomes apparent that bastard or no, his Uncle Camlach who has now inherited the kingdom considers him a threat so Merlin must flee. By the hand of the Gods he ends up in lesser Britain and is given over to Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon the exiled Princes of Britain-one who will give him the answers he has been looking for and the other who will shape his destiny. Crystal Cave takes us from Merlin’s boyhood through the fated meeting between Ygraine of Cornwall and Uther Pendragon and the begetting of the child who will be the greatest king England has ever known.

Merlin has had many incarnations in the telling of Arthurian legend. In some he is the mad wizard, in others he is manipulative old man. Here we see Merlin as a real person, a boy with special gifts that he embraces to help shape the fate of Britain. He can’t control what he sees or when he sees it. It is just a gift of the Gods that he accepts and uses. Surrounding Merlin is an interesting and varied cast of characters: Ambrosius and Uther, his servants and friends Cerdic and Cardal, Galapas, Gorlois and Ygraine of Cornwall, all of which are vividly brought to life here. I really enjoyed that this story gives background to the legend. The reader gets a detailed description of Merlin’s life as a young Bastard child, his joining with the Pendragons, the building of the Army to take back Britain, the superstitions of the time that made him part power player and part outcast and his personal connections with all those around him. My only complaint was that a few scenes felt they were more drawn out than they needed to be in order to further the story, particularly the areas dealing with the war and a few where Merlin must prove his worth as a "magician/prophet". They seemed longer than they needed to be but these areas were few and far between. This was a well written and enjoyable take on the Arthurian Legend and I think it did an exceptional job of bringing this time period to life. I will definitely be getting my hands on the next book, the Hollow Hills, so I can continue Merlin’s adventure.

I have read many Arthurian Legend books and this one may not be THE best but it is definitely in my top 5. I give this one 4 crowns.

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Sharon said...

I read this series years ago and LOVED it! Glad you liked it!

Elena said...

I remember reading and enjoying this series years ago. I think there's also a book set from Mordred's point of view by the same author, but I'm not entirely sure.

Great review.

Joanne said...

Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy is a classic -- glad to see it reviewed here for new readers to discover. Very nice review.

Blodeuedd said...

Hm, hm, dunno, it sounds good, but I think I am tired of Arthurian legends