I've been reading more short stories lately than I used to and have noticed that I'm either starting to appreciate them a lot more, or I'm lucking out...moreI've been reading more short stories lately than I used to and have noticed that I'm either starting to appreciate them a lot more, or I'm lucking out on picking good anthologies. Of course every anthology will have a bunch of stories that tend to range from poor to great and one can only hope the collection tends toward the high end, at least on average.
This collection contains only seven stories but I can honestly rate four of them with 5 stars, two with 4 stars, and only one story with 3 stars. And even the 3 star story was well-written, just not in a style I normally enjoy.
My favorites: 'The Bridge of Fire' by Mike Ashley (probably because it was a detective story, and I'm in to those right now), 'The Queen's Broidery Woman' by Nancy Springer, 'The Raven's Quest' by Fiona Patton, (which had me thinking about it long after I had finished which usually only happens to me with full length novels), and 'The Feasting of the Hungry Man' by Ian McDowell.
It's important to note that while these stories might involve Arthur, Merlin, and the rest, they are really about Camelot, itself. The best of the stories herein concern themselves with ordinary citizens of Camelot, thrust into extraordinary circumstances. This volume has been a pleasant surprise for me, and I would urge Arthurian devotees not to overlook it.(less)
The book was mostly very good. A few sections dragged a bit. I've read quite a few versions of the Arthurian legend including those by TH White, Berna...moreThe book was mostly very good. A few sections dragged a bit. I've read quite a few versions of the Arthurian legend including those by TH White, Bernard Cornwell, and Stephen R. Lawhead. Still on my shelf is Jack Whyte's huge 8 volume set which probably won't get read for at least 5 more years. I like Ms Stewart's take on it though, fairly straight-forward story with lots of political intrigue. Merlin is her narrator which is as it should be in my opinion. Who else really knows everything that is going on here?(less)
The Wicked Day is the fourth and final book in Mary Stewart's "Arthurian Saga". It's sort of interesting that the first three books are referred to as...moreThe Wicked Day is the fourth and final book in Mary Stewart's "Arthurian Saga". It's sort of interesting that the first three books are referred to as "The Merlin Trilogy" but when the fourth book is added it becomes "The Arthurian Saga". This time, Ms Stewart applies her considerable talents to the story of Mordred, telling the entire story from his birth, through his growing up, and to its inevitable conclusion.
This has to be one of the most difficult things to do in fiction writing. Take a well established character in one of the most well-known and oft-written epic stories in history, forever acknowledged as the villain of the piece, and craft a story with him as the protagonist. Marion Zimmer Bradley did something very similar in The Mists of Avalon but even then, the character of Morgan isn't, I believe, as universally hated as is Mordred. But I must say, Ms Stewart pulls it off in fine style.
As the protagonist, Mordred's story is told from his point of view and is thus sympathetic towards that point of view. He comes across as a very sympathetic character; I kept pulling for him even as I knew what the ending had to be. In fact, Mordred is well liked, even loved by most of the other characters, and it isn't until near the end that his point of view starts to diverge from Arthur's. There is no "evil" nature to this man; what might be construed as ambition seems very naturally to have arisen from his mother, Morgause, Arthur's half sister and most definitely the real villain in Mary Stewart's saga. And even in the end, it is a mistake, a misunderstanding of what is really happening that leads to Mordred's and Arthur's final battle. I found it very interesting to read the appendix and the Author's note at the end of the book where the "real" legend is briefly retold from the actual text of both Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the King's of England and Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur. Apparently, Mordred was not originally presented as a villainous person; that arose later as countless retellings diffused the original versions.
I am very pleased to have read this set of four books. I had always heard that they were among the very best of the modern versions of the Arthurian/Merlin tales and am happy to add my agreement.(less)
This third book of Mary Stewart's "Merlin Trilogy", The Last Enchantment has proven to be my favorite of the set. I tend to judge the books I read by...moreThis third book of Mary Stewart's "Merlin Trilogy", The Last Enchantment has proven to be my favorite of the set. I tend to judge the books I read by the style of book it is and how well it meets my expectations for the genre. For example, a really good adventure/thriller novel makes me want to keep reading faster and faster to get to the, hopefully, satisfying conclusion. A good mystery may make me read a bit slower to make sure I'm not missing some vital clue along the way. The Last Enchantment was one of those fantasy novels that made me want to really take my time, just to savor the story itself, relishing not only in the classic Arthurian mythos that I love but also in the writing style of Mary Stewart. And I did take my time, nearly a whole week for just one novel!
I enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy quite a bit but this one was one notch better still. Both of the preceding novels were fine on their own but, I think, served largely to set the stage for this third volume. We start with Arthur just having been proclaimed King after Uther's death, and get to watch him through Merlin's eyes as he grows into his role. All of the pageantry of the Arthurian legends comes to the fold here but not always as we are used to seeing it. The author's note at the end explains how she used many historical texts as well as the original Arthurian works by Mallory (Morte d'Arthur) to keep to the more authentic legend. Merlin, of course, takes center stage in these novels, telling the story from his first person POV. Ms Stewart does a masterful job of keeping him honest, showing his foibles along with his genius. Not much in the way of description of battles is to be found here; Arthur is often away leading one battle or another but that is all done off stage. Rather the book concentrates more on the relationships of those around Merlin himself such as Nimue, his student/lover/wife and ultimate successor. Other prominent characters such as Morgan, Morgause, Lot, Bedwyn and a host of allied kings and queens all make their appearance.
This trilogy is among the best fantasy I've read and will take an honored place on my shelves.(less)
Some of my earliest memories of the world of fiction and story telling involve tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Most have read...moreSome of my earliest memories of the world of fiction and story telling involve tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Most have read at least one such story in their childhood while many of us have consumed many versions of this classic and continue to do so to this day. So it was with a mixture of anticipation and some trepidation that I began this trilogy. Not having read Cornwell's well-received "Sharpe" novels, but having been inundated with praise for them, I wondered at how he would tackle this tale. Isn't it a bit presumptuous to re-tell such an oft-told tale? In fact, Cornwell, himself, says much the same thing. After all, hasn't it all been said? Not at all! We catch a quick glimpse of Cornwell's approach, right from the start, with the title. This is "The Warlord Chronicles". And, indeed, it is. Arthur is the son of Uther and therefore not in line to become King. Instead, he is a warlord, assigned as Mordred's protector. His main goal, however, is to unite all of Briton's divisive tribes against the common enemy: the soon-to-invade Saxons.
If you are looking for a traditional approach to the telling of the tale of Arthur, look elsewhere. This rendition is brutal, realistic, and fascinating. As Cornwell, himself, says, "There is a sword and there is a stone, but one is not in the other." In fact, many of the popular elements that we have come to expect are simply not there. Most of the familial relationships are different than I had assumed, i.e. Mordred, Uther, Morgan, Igraine, Guinivere, Arthur, etc. Cornwell takes them all and comes up with a plausible course for his characters to take.
The story is told from the point of view of a young warrior, Derfel, who moves from being under Merlin's protection, to serve with Arthur's army and eventually become friend, confidant, and advisor to Arthur. He tells the story from a down-to-earth blood and guts perspective. Cornwell is well known for the historical research that he conducts for his novels and even though the "facts" are elusive for Arthur's tale, the time period and settings are well detailed. The resulting tapestry is a credible playground for Cornwell's characters to interact upon. Cornwell uses the plausible and traditional Welsh names for his places and characters, a technique which may make it a bit more difficult for some readers to follow. I found myself referring often to the lists provided at the beginning of the book, to keep places and people straight in my head. By the way, don't look for Camelot here, either. Small portions of the story, I felt, dragged just a little. And there is a lot of realistic, up close and authentic fighting to wade through. But there is another battle waging here, as well. The battle between the old Pagan ways and the burgeoning Christianity frequently takes center stage.
All in all, I quite enjoyed this novel. I have since read the other two volumes in the Warlord Chronicles and believe that they are even slightly better than this one. This is a true trilogy where one must read all three novels to appreciate the epic. If you come to this one with an open mind, then I think you'll be happy you did. (less)