Mary Stewart


The Crystal Cave


An enchanting fantasy.


Stewart has run with the Arthur semi historical myth – choosing Merlin as her narrator. And she’s done it well. Sure we’ve got lots of the standard tools around a down and out bastard child maturing into power and influence, and most characters could be summed up as ‘Faithful servant #2’, ‘virtuous old mentor’, or ‘Evil priest #3’, but what’s wrong with that? These are enjoyable mythical characters. Moreover she’s managed to maintain a sense of magic as an undercurrent or mood running through the book – something deeper and more powerful than the casual and costless flash of Eddings, Goodkind and their ilk. It reminds me a bit of David Gemmell too in the way that you can like the hero, who looks out for the underdog and is more a friend than a ‘master’: Merlin’s a one in a million sage, but a nice bloke too. He’s also far more consistent than a lot of heroes whose authors’ lavishly describe as paragons of virtue and intellect who don’t necessarily do much that’s selfless or smart. Stewart’s Merlin rather earns our respect and affection – even when involved in the nasty backstabbing at Tintagel (this Arthur had just better be worth it…).


So, a capable story from the old romance, a nice place to escape to for a while. I mean, Merlin has a pretty big rap to live up to: it’s impressive that you come away from Stewart’s version satisfied and not at all disappointed. That’ll do me.


August 2004

2nd Reading

(First read 1980?)