The Crystal Cave

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


The Crystal Cave
by Mary Stewart
★★★☆

I’m a sucker for anything having to do with the Arthurian legend. Camelot, Guinevere, the Knights of the Round Table, I love them all, but I’ve always found Merlin particularly captivating. Stewart’s series, published in the 1970s, has been called the best modern re-telling of this story, so I had to check it out.

The story is told from Merlin’s point-of-view and follows his life as a young boy in Wales, his adolescence in Less Britain and his return home as an adult. Stewart maintains all of the legend’s major points, including the fall of King Vortigern, Merlin’s role as a prophet to the kings and how Arthur is conceived.

**SPOILERS**

There are a few elements I really liked about this particular version of the myth. I enjoyed the role Stewart gives Merlin in rebuilding Stonehenge. She also sheds some like on the story of his parentage. He is born a bastard, but we meet his father, Ambrosius, and find out that he is really Arthur’s cousin (Uther is Ambrosius’ brother). That twist gave an added gravitas to the role Merlin plays in orchestrating Uther’s obsession with the Lady Ygraine.

**SPOILERS OVER**

A new character in this re-telling is Merlin’s servant Cadal. I loved their friendship and it was a testament to Merlin’s integrity that he considered his servants his dearest companions. I also liked Merlin’s teacher, Galapas, and have some suspicions about where that story line will go in future books.

I did enjoy this one and I think I’ll continue the series. It wasn’t unputdownable and it didn’t cover too much new territory, but I always enjoy a good Merlin tale. I’m hoping that this book, as it often is with most first books in a series, isn’t the best of the lot. It establishes the main players and premise, but ideally future books will delve deeper into the story and develop our love of the characters.

11 comments:

Amanda said...

I was assigned to read this one and The Once & Future King for summer reading right before my freshman year in high school. I've never been a big fan of this sort of book or of King Arthur, so I was not looking forward to it at all. The One & Future King took me weeks to get through, slogging all the time, but The Crystal Cave was wonderful! I was surprised just how m uch I liked it. It's one of those books I really ought to revisit sometime.

Avid Reader said...

Somehow I've never read The Once & Future King, shame on me, I know. I'll get to it eventually.

J.C. Montgomery said...

I love this series - still do. In fact I just got the entire set again (lucky I work in a used bookstore!) and am planning on re-reading them this summer. Your review reminds me of how much I'm looking forward to it. :-)

Monica said...

You and another blogger mentioned Stewart's series, so I've added it to my tbr list. Thanks!

Jeanne said...

I loved this series as a teenager, when I read everything Arthurian I could find. I'm afraid I do remember the first one as the best.

She said...

YES. I loved these! I hope they get better for you as you go on.

Charley said...

I have the blue cover version on the right. I enjoyed this book as a pre-teen, and still remember a few scenes from it. I tried to pick it up again a year or two ago, but the same magic wasn't there for me at that time. Oh well, I still have wonderfully fond memories of reading it back in the day.

Swapna said...

I absolutely adored this series as a high schooler - I read the books countless times. I keep meaning to go back and reread them so I can review them, but life and my TBR pile keep getting in the way!

Avid Reader said...

I wish I'd read this when I was a bit younger, but I still enjoyed it. After seeing so many great comments I think I'll have to keep reading them. I first picked it up (in addition to loving Arthur books) is because my Dad told me my Mom loved this series when she was younger.

Nancy said...

These are my favorite Merlin books - not insanely exciting, but so intelligently rendered.

Avid Reader said...

Nancy - That was my favorite part of this book. It doesn't play up the magical side of things for added drama, it's more cerebral.