Review: The Crystal Cave

The Crystal CaveMary Stewart, The Crystal Cave

This novel, the first installment of Stewart’s Arthurian saga, reimagines the story of Merlin, legendary wizard and mentor to King Arthur. Merlin is the illegitimate son of the king of South Wales, a status that brings both privileges and dangers. He never goes hungry and is able to study with tutors, but he is also a target for anyone who might wish to succeed the king or seize power. When the king dies, the ensuing struggle for the throne puts Merlin in grave danger, and he decides to flee the kingdom. At age 12, with no name, no friends, and no particular skill with a sword, Merlin must learn to survive in a hostile world. He also begins to learn that he possesses unusual abilities — powers that enable him to see into the future and foretell the coming of Arthur, who will eventually become king of a united Britain.

I really enjoy Mary Stewart’s novels of romantic suspense, so I was excited to acquire her first three Arthurian books at a library sale a few years ago. But I have to admit, I was a little disappointed by this book. It’s well-written, and the historical insights into Roman Britain are fascinating…it just moves so slowly! It seems like the first hundred pages of a not-very-long novel are just about Merlin as a child in the king’s home, where nothing much happens to him, and he spends all day hiding in the ruins of the underground plumbing system. Once he leaves South Wales, the story picks up, and I quite enjoyed the descriptions of battles and political maneuverings among the various claimants to the British throne. I’ll read the remaining books because I already bought them, but I wasn’t as excited by this book as I’d hoped.

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13 thoughts on “Review: The Crystal Cave”

  1. strangely enough I read this trilogy backwards! I didn’t know they were a trilogy and had found The Last Enchantmant and loved it. So when I discovered it was a trilogy I read the others “backwards” and liked it all because of that. I don’t know If I would have read them with book 1 being slow.. so know this: they get better with each book.!

  2. My mother and older sister LOVE these books, and I was never able to get into them. I tried reading each of them at least thrice throughout my childhood, and I felt the same as you every time — not much happening, and a lot of stuff to slog through before you got to the story proper. :/ One of these days I’ll try them again, I swear.

  3. I’ve heard very good things about this series…but I also have an impression of them as rather slow and dense–which seems to be your experience too. I might attempt eventually–I do like a good Arthurian story–but probably not right away…

  4. Mary Stewart’s trilogy was my introduction to Arthurian legend … I read them when I was in my early teens and fell in love with the legend … since then, I’ve read far more readable and more fast-paced versions, but in my heart her series will always be special to me. Thanks for spurring me to think about this book again after all these years!

    1. I’ve heard from a lot of people who first read these books in their teens, and they all LOVED the series…I’m wondering if I read this book too late in my life! Glad I could bring you some happy nostalgia. 🙂 I already own books #2 and 3, so I’m sure I’ll continue with the series at some point!

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