Cara's Reviews > The Wicked Day

The Wicked Day by Mary  Stewart
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Jan 03, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: arthurian, fantasy
Read in January, 1986 — I own a copy , read count: 10

** spoiler alert ** Although some find this final book (I've never read the fifth book in the saga, and don't intend to, as it doesn't seem connected to the first four) less satisfying because Merlin is not in it, I love it. Merlin's voice is absent, but his impact is felt everywhere.

One of Stewart's brilliant devices in this series was to focus on three men, all of whom grow up not knowing at least one of their parents (in fact, Merlin is the only one to know his mother's true identity during his childhood). By placing each of them in very different circumstances, she shows how their childhoods formed their characters. Merlin, the bastard, is marginalized when not outright ostracized because, to his mother's family, he represents her shame (or, perhaps, her liaison with a demon). But his gift of the sight gives him a different perspective and brings him into contact with those who appreciate him. His childhood doesn't scar him because his powers set him apart in ways that both isolate and protect him. And he finds love and affirmation in the relationships with his father, his cousin (Arthur), and, eventually, Niniane.

Arthur also grows up without knowing his parentage, but his life is somewhat different. Although aware that his unknown parentage leaves him in a vulnerable position, he is surrounded by love from the beginning of his life and is raised in an environment that provides him with the education and training he will need and, indeed, wants. He is confident, and surrounded by those who love him (Merlin and Bedwyr, in particular), thus the discovery of his true parentage is more important to him as a way to establish his place as a leader than it is to his emotional well-being.

Mordred has the most difficult path to follow. He's lied to from the beginning of his life and spends his early years in an environment that he knows is not enough scope for his talents and ambitions (even if he doesn't know how he knows that). Even when taken into his mother's house, he is left in the dark as to his relationship with her and his half-brothers, and the lies continue until some time after he meets Arthur. Because Arthur is the first (and only one) to tell him the truth, and because he sees in Arthur a man to be respected, they develop a strong bond. But it's never the loving bond that Merlin and Arthur shared, largely because Mordred is not as open a personality as either of the other two. This doesn't make Mordred a villain; in fact, the tragedy of this telling is that Mordred actively tries to avoid becoming the traitor that he is prophesied to become. This makes the Battle of Camlann more painful to read than any other version of the tale.
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