King Arthur and Merlin and all those chaps have been a part of legend ever since they actually existed, and it's practically a genre unto itself. Sometimes it focuses on Merlin, sometimes Arthur, sometimes Lancelot, sometimes Guinevere, sometimes someone completely random. But the Arthurian legends are still going strong today.
Sorry, we're studying Anglo-Norman literature in my English class right now, so I'm trying not to slip into essay mode. Focus.
Myrddin Emrys is the bastard son of Lady Niniane, daughter of the king of Britain in Maridunum. No one knows who his father is, for Niniane refuses to tell a single soul, even her father the king. It is widely believed that little Merlin (affectionately called so by his mother and others) is the son of the demon or the devil himself, for sometimes he knows things he shouldn't and has a tendency to overhear a great many things.
One day Merlin finds himself in a cave and encounters a wise old man named Galapas, who teaches Merlin many things. Not long after this, Merlin is forced to flee the castle and ends up crossing the sea to Cornwall and in the service of Ambrosius, outcast prince. With Merlin's often supernatural assistance, Ambrosius and his brother Uther just might be able to retake all of Britain and drive the hated Saxons out.
Okay, so that summary is a bit crap, but I'm not super good at all of the Saxons war Britain king stuff. I followed along fine while I was reading, but it's not exactly what stuck with me.
What did stick was all of Merlin's adventures and powers. I really like how Mary Stewart writes him, starting with his toddler years and gradually following him as he grows up. He's not an amazing sorcerer, but no one will believe him when he tells them. He actually is just very very intelligent and likes to learn about everything. True, he's prone to a few destinies and visions every now and again... but really, he's not a magician.
Normally I don't read a lot of epic fantasy or even Arthurian tales in general -- it's just never been my forté. Arty's usually the one who reads that stuff. So I entered The Crystal Cave without much excitement. But I actually really enjoyed the whole adventure. It's definitely an epic in the sense that it moves along slowly at its own pace, unhurried and in no rush to get to the action. There's a lot of description of the war and the tactics of Ambrosius, which makes sense because it concerns Merlin quite a lot. Mary Stewart has some very nice writing suited to the genre she's chosen, though if you like fast-paced fantasy adventure then this isn't the book for you.
What really kept me reading was Merlin himself. His personality is just great. He's very no-nonsense, a bit brash, but also extremely level-headed as he matures into a young man. He knows how to use his brains and his luck, and is extremely good at coming up with something in the moment. No one else likes him much, but in the age he lived in, he wasn't exactly the popular type. Personally, I'd love to hang out with him.
If you like historical epic fantasy and/or Arthurian legends, this is definitely the book for you. There are few more books in Mary Stewart's Arthurian Saga, and I look forward to reading those at some point. They just take a long time to get through because they're each over 500 pages. Not exactly light reading.
It feels great to be reviewing books again. Let's hope it lasts!
You might like this if you: like historical epic fantasy; like Arthurian legends; like Arthurian retellings; like Merlin; like magic that's not actually magic but everyone insists is magic; like historical battle fantasy stuff; or if you sometimes have weird visions that cause all your friends to make the sign against evil and make everyone think your absent father is the devil.