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This Rough Magic

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When Lucy Waring's sister Phyllida suggests that she join her for a quiet holiday on the island of Corfu, young English Lucy is overjoyed. Her work as an actress has temporarily come to a halt. She believes there is no finer place to be "at liberty" than the sun-drenched isle of Corfu, the alleged locale for Shakespeare's The Tempest. Even the suspicious actions of the handsome, arrogant son of a famous actor cannot dampen her enthusiasm for this wonderland in the Ionian Sea.

But the peaceful idyll does not last long. A series of incidents, seemingly unconnected - but all surrounded in mystery - throws Lucy's life into a dangerous spin, as fear, danger and death - as well as romance - supplant the former tranquility. Then a human corpse is carried ashore on the incoming tide... And without warning, she found she had stumbled into a nightmare of strange violence, stalked by shadows of terror and sudden death.

373 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1964

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About the author

Mary Stewart

77 books2,256 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Lady Mary Stewart, born Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow, was a popular English novelist, and taught at the school of John Norquay elementary for 30 to 35 years.

She was one of the most widely read fiction writers of our time. The author of twenty novels, a volume of poetry, and three books for young readers, she was admired for both her contemporary stories of romantic suspense and her historical novels. Born in England, she lived for many years in Scotland, spending time between Edinburgh and the West Highlands.

Her unofficial fan site can be found at http://marystewartnovels.blogspot.com/.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 626 reviews
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
February 14, 2020
It's the 1960s, and Lucy Waring, a rather unsuccessful young British actress (played here in my imaginary movie by Natalie Wood)
has traveled to Corfu, an island off the coast of Greece, to visit her sister when her London play closes after only a two-month run. If you have to hide somewhere to lick your wounds, Corfu is the place to do it.

Lucy get to swim in their private bay, play with a friendly dolphin:

. . . trade lines from Shakespeare with one of the most famous actors in Great Britain, who is also hiding in Corfu for reasons that gradually become apparent:
(I'm nominating Sean Connery to play the part of Sir Julian)

. . . and trade insults with his attractive son, Max.
(Gregory Peck was kind enough to accept the role)

Sounds like a great way to spend a few weeks to me! The only problem is that people keep drowning, which may or may not have something to do with the mysterious gunshots that were taken at the dolphin when Lucy was nearby . . .

As always, Mary Stewart writes wonderful, descriptive scenes of landscapes, homes and people, and I felt like I was actually transported to Corfu. I loved the banter between the characters in this novel, and the growing relationship between the main characters (yes, it is Mary Stewart's patented insta-love again. You just have to roll with it). I also loved the various references to Shakespeare's The Tempest, including pertinent quotes at the beginning of each chapter and Sir Julian's theory that Corfu = Prospero's island. It will help your enjoyment of the book if you're already familiar with The Tempest--those in our group read who aren't really familiar with it had mixed feelings about the references--but personally I ate them up. Don't expect the novel to track the play too closely, though; the Tempest references are more for atmosphere. And the last several chapters are heart-pumpingly tense, with a great climactic scene. It's not a deep story or particularly mysterious, but it's a fun, suspense-filled ride.

After an internal debate with myself I'm bumping my rating up to 5 stars on this re-read. This novel is somewhat dated, but Mary Stewart + tough but sensitive alpha hero + intrepid heroine + witty dialogue all adds up to a win for me. And don't forget the dolphin!

September 2014 and February 2018 buddy reads with the Mary Stewart group.
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,632 followers
June 16, 2019
4.5 stars

"I shuddered, and drank my coffee, leaning back in my chair to gaze out across pine tops furry with gold towards the sparkling sea, and surrendering myself to the dreamlike feeling that marks the start of a holiday in a place like this when one is tired and has been transported overnight from the April chill of England to the sunlight of a magic island in the Ionian Sea."

I won’t make it to Corfu this summer, or anytime soon for that matter, so I have Mary Stewart to thank for my latest enchanting and breathtaking jaunt to this beautiful Greek island. Located in the northwestern-most portion of Greece, with Italy and Albania as close neighbors, Corfu has a colorful history, dating back to ancient times. It is a place of vibrant myths and legends which Ms. Stewart seamlessly weaves through her sparkling tale.

Lucy Waring is a twenty-something looking for a place to unwind after a newly stalled London stage career. Her sister Phyllida offers the perfect, idyllic retreat for our young and spirited heroine. Nestled in the foothills of Mount Pantokrator, the Villa Forli has a gorgeous view of the bay, with paths connecting it to the Villa Rotha and the Castello dei Fiori, a timeworn castle "tatty beyond words, sort of Wagnerian Gothic, like a set for a musical version of Dracula." Naturally, there are mysteries galore surrounding the castle, and two recent deaths of local young men set the stage for what is guaranteed to be a rip-roaring and suspenseful adventure. A splash of romance is an obligatory ingredient in any Stewart novel, and our darling Lucy meets no less than four dashing gentlemen that fit the bill for this recipe. Two of these happen to occupy the aforementioned villa and castello, one of the occupants a photographer, Godfrey Manning, and the other Max Gale, the musician son of a famed London stage actor, Sir Julian Gale. These are some good-looking guys, but for me personally, the greatest attraction lay with a very sleek, graceful and somewhat playful hero – the dolphin - "Apollo’s beloved desire of the sea."

As with any Stewart story, this one moves at a brisk pace with never a dull moment. There are fast cars and slick motorcycles navigating hairpin curves as well as thrilling boat rides. The threat of Cold War, communist Albania lurks in the distance. It’s always such fun to figure out the villain of the story. I’m usually a bit stumped for at least the first portion of the book before taking a guess and hoping I get it right this time! Is this a little old-fashioned? Well, maybe a smidgeon, but who cares?! It’s still cleverly plotted, the landscape is intoxicating, the characters intriguing, the heroine gutsy, and the dolphin oh so charming. It’s always a pleasure to read something by this author, and I will continue on my quest for more of her work. My favorite still remains her Merlin series, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to anyone looking for the allure of a magical place and pure entertainment.

"It seems to me you can be awfully happy in this life if you stand aside and watch and mind your own business, and let other people do as they like about damaging themselves and one another. You go on kidding yourself that you’re impartial and tolerant and all that, then all of a sudden you realize you’re dead, and you’ve never been alive at all."
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,643 reviews5,092 followers
December 30, 2019
the island of Corfu is golden, blue skies overhead and sandy beaches underfoot, light playing on the sea's surface. its waters have strange moods and deliver surprising gifts: a playful dolphin, treasure of a sort, and a body swept to its shores, bashed and broken. the island of Corfu is a romantic place! where better to find adventure and mystery, espionage and murder, passionate embraces. Mary Stewart fully commits to this lovely location, her descriptions vivid and clear, her affection and respect for the Greek locals and their culture equally on display. and then there is the dolphin, that clever boy, a highlight of the book. best of all, her heroine: intelligent and resourceful, curious and dynamic, never a shrinking violet. this is only my second Stewart; I wonder, will I continue to see a lack of silly heroines in her romantic adventures? the author adds additional layers that make her tale even richer: acting and the theatre is one layer, the story of The Tempest another. was Corfu that strange isle where Prospero found his home? one can only guess.
Profile Image for Willow .
234 reviews98 followers
July 20, 2016
For the last Mary Stewart 'group read' which I did for Madam, Will You Talk?, I decided to cast the book as a movie, picking glamorous stars from the fifties. Hannah asked if I would do that again for this book, so here it is! Yay! I hope you enjoy it.

Now casting this book was a little bit trickier then for MWYT, since This Rough Magic is supposed to take place 1964. I couldn’t use the cast from the last book. They weren’t young enough. And as always, they had to be British, since This Rough Magic is a very British book. So anyway, here it goes.

For beautiful actress and animal lover, Lucy Waring, I thought I would cast the lovely Julie Christie.

”Don’t pretend you don’t know! It must have been you! If you’re such death on trespassers, who else would be there? Someone took a couple of potshots at it, just a few minutes ago. I was down there, and I saw you on the terrace.”

She doesn’t mince words and is pretty fearless. :)

For the dark, brooding musician, Max Gale, I thought I would cast Alan Bates.

Now, look, to hell with the civilities, you’ll have to hear it all some other time. If we’re not to die of pneumonia, we’ve got to go. Where are your shoes, Miss Waring?...

Obviously, Mr. Gale has no problems telling Godfrey Manning when to sod off. LOL

For Max’s father, the great actor and recluse, Julian Gale, I decided to go with Sir Ralph Richardson. Sir Ralph has a certain quality of ethereal wackiness that seems to fit Sir Julian. It’s like he could have a conversation with himself and be highly entertained. I love that. LOL

He was not, or he might have stopped her pillaging the place! She’s made a good selection, hasn’t she? I thought she should be made to pay a forfeit, á la Beauty and the Beast. We’ll let her off the kiss on such a short acquaintance, but she’ll have to stay and have a drink with us, at least!”

For Lucy’s amusing and older sister, Phyllida (who’s married to the very wealthy Leo) I thought I’d go for Maggie Smith.

”Seriously, there isn’t anyone watching, is there, Lucy? I’d just as soon not have an audience.”

Poor Phyl doesn’t want anyone seeing her swimming on the beach when she’s a few months pregnant. She sounds adorable though, all dressed in bright yellow nylon. LOL

For the uptight, nature lover and photographer, Godfrey Manning, I thought I would go with Tom Courtney.

Look, Phyl, ought I to go and talk to them now? There’ll be things they’ll want to ask.”

Lucy says when she meets him, My first quick impression was of a mask of rather chilly control held hard down over some strong emotion. Then the impression faded, and I saw that I was wrong: the control was not a mask; it was part of the man, and was created by the emotion itself, as a Westinghouse brake is slammed on automatically by the head of the steam.

For the beautiful Miranda, I decided to go with lovely Greek actress, Irene Papas.

Yes! It was after this holy woman, A Corfiote, that I was called! Then you know this story, too?”

Handsome gardener and Maria’s love interest, Adonis, could be played by George Charkaris.

“It’s a bit much, isn’t it? In Greek we say ‘Adoni,’” (He pronounced it A-thoni.) “Perhaps you’d find that easier to say? Not quite so sissy?”

Anyhoo, there’s my cast! I would love to sit down and watch the movie now.

I do want to say, Mary Stewart is awesome. She really is. Even after all these years her stories just come to life.

No her characters aren’t deeply complex, but because Stewart introduces them by dialogue and action, they sure come to life and have a lot of personality. Yes, it’s a little disorienting at first because you have to learn about them the hard way (like in real life) but I do feel like I get to know them. So many writers today tell you exactly who everyone is and what to think of them, even using pop references, leaving nothing to the imagination. But Stewart never resorts to these kinds of shortcuts. She lets the reader come to their own conclusions. I think this is what makes Stewart’s writing so timeless.

Stewart is also amazing at setting the scene. She described the island of Corfu so well, I was there, mesmerized by the translucent blue water, listening to the birds and catching the scent of pine trees.

This Rough Magic starts out slow and there are several Tempest references that I’m not sure tied in very well (I kept hoping for a big storm and it never came.) And there are some implausible plot points. So I knocked a star. But the ending was exciting and when I got there, I could not set the book down. So all in all, it’s a great read. I will definitely be reading more Stewart books. :D

Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,227 reviews1,062 followers
March 2, 2023
This Rough Magic is a novel by Mary Stewart, which was first published in 1964. Mary Stewart’s novels are generally classed as romantic suspense, or mystery thrillers with a dash of romance. This Rough Magic is typical fare from this author: escapist, suspenseful, occasionally melodramatic and beautifully descriptive:

“The trickle of the falling stream was cool and lovely, and light spangled down golden through the young oak leaves. A bird sang somewhere, but only one. The woods were silent, stretching away dim-shadowed in the heart of the late afternoon. Bee orchises swarmed by the river, over a bank of daisies. A blue tit flew across the clearing, obviously in a great hurry, its beak stuffed with insects for the waiting family.”

In this way “romantic” should be understood in its earlier, broader meaning, rather than just a love story. The title This Rough Magic is a quotation from William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”, and indeed the novel references this play throughout, with a short quotation heading each chapter.

This is the third novel I have read by Mary Stewart, and while I find them hugely enjoyable, and a cut above what may be expected, because of their elegant prose and literary allusions, I am beginning to recognise what I think of as “the Mary Stewart formula”.

Take a young woman, who is intelligent, feisty, independent for her time, and courageous. She will not be a run of the mill damsel in distress, but will be more likely to rescue herself — and others. Ensure she is well to do, upper-middle class, and has no immediate commitments in terms of work or relationships. Make sure too that she has access to one, or two, reliable older friends or relatives, when necessary. Place her in an idyllic, exotic setting (or an atmospheric gothic one), and surround her with people she does not know. Most of these must immediately fall under her spell, be charmed, and fall over backwards to help her. If the location is exotic, she must only have a smattering of the language, but either have a special skill, or know much which is relevant to the ensuing story because of her education.

Then introduce the elements which enable our heroine to display herself to her best advantage. A mystery needs to be solved, to which our heroine gains unique knowledge, allowing only her to piece together the puzzle. There must be one or more scenes where she is in serious peril, or danger of being killed. A wrong to be righted is crucial, enabling her to show us her strong moral code. There must be elements which allow us to see her sensitivity and compassion; both her enthusiasm for the natural world, and her love of animals. One or more criminals must be included; thinly disguised in the early part of the story, and it must be through our heroine’s resourcefulness and courage that they are brought to justice. And the piece de resistance, there must be just one scene where she is less than perfect, and needs assistance from the designated hero (strong, dark and handsome, or moody, arrogant and scowling, as you will) before the denouement. Tie all this together – mystery, suspense, romance, an evocative, atmospheric setting – and mix in a dash of literary allusions and references, and hey presto! You have another perfectly rounded and successful Mary Stewart novel.

In every novel, to quote another Shakespearian masterpiece, “All’s Well that Ends Well”. Mary Stewart’s novels are pure, escapist fantasy, designed especially to appeal to the young women of the time, and now feeling slightly dated. Females were on their way to becoming accepted as strongly authoritative figures, but were not yet empowered. True to form, Mary Stewart’s heroines still have a tendency to go weak at the knees on occasion. Passages like this, too, would be out of place in a contemporary novel:

“As I put the car into gear, I saw him usher the silent girl through her mother’s door as if he already owned the place. Suppressing a sharp – and surely primitive – envy for a woman who could have her problems simply taken out of her hands and solved for her willy-nilly, I put down my own independent and emancipated foot, and sent the little Fiat bucketing over the ruts of the drive…”

But a typical Mary Stewart heroine will be quick-thinking, plucky, down-to-earth, self-sufficient, resourceful, brave – and crucially, very easy to like. Readers who need a heroine to identify with, and a little wish-fulfillment, will not be disappointed.

The heroine of This Rough Magic is Lucy Waring, an out of work young actress, aged twenty-five. Lucy is frustrated with the way her career is going. Her first foray into a major role in London’s theatre-land has just ended, when the play abruptly closed after the “merest face-saver of a run”. She has decided to give herself a little thinking space, by visiting her slightly older sister Phyllida, in Corfu. Phyllida and her wealthy banker husband, Leonardo Forli (who is never to appear in the novel), own a large estate, which he has inherited from his ancestral family. It consists of a beautiful, crumbling gothic pile, the “Castello dei Fiori”, and two smaller villas.

Lucy joins her sister at the Villa Forli: one of the two villas below the “pretentious and romantic” Castello dei Fiori. Phyl is expecting their first child, whom she jokingly says she is going to name “Prospero”. Lucy immediately quips that “Caliban” might be preferable, quoting the relevant passage from Shakespeare: “This blue-eyed hag was hither brought with child”! So from page one of the novel, we become not only aware that there are going to be references to “The Tempest”, but that these two sisters are both well-educated.

The other villa is occupied by the Forlis’ tenant, a charming author and photographer, Godfrey Manning, who is working on a new coffee-table book about Corfu. Lucy is impressed by the skill and artistry of his photographs, and especially impressed by some taken of a playful dolphin, and a young local boy, Spiro. But she is even more impressed to learn of the current occupant of the old Castello dei Fiori.

It is being rented by a renowned, almost legendary, classical actor, whom she much admires, but who seems to have become somewhat of a recluse, following the tragic death of his wife some years ago. This is Sir Julian Gale, and Lucy is soon to meet his son, Max, whom she dislikes on sight, finding him aloof, boorish and arrogant. He is at somewhat lacking in the charm stakes at their first meeting, being armed with a shotgun, and lording it above her on the balustrade, his only concern to keep away intruders and protect his father’s privacy. Lucy herself is at a decided disadvantage, aware of trespassing, and wearing minimum clothing. (It is noticeable that Mary Stewart’s heroines usually have at least one scene where they are only skimpily clad.) However, the description of the gardens surrounding the Castello dei Fiori is lush and lavish:

“After the dappled dimness of the woods, it took some moments before one could do more than blink at the dazzle of colour. Straight ahead of me an arras of wistaria hung fully fifteen feet, and below it there were roses. Somewhere to one side there was a thicket of purple judas trees, and apple blossom glinting with the wings of working bees. Arum lilies grew in a damp corner, and some other lily with petals like gold parchment, transparent in the light. And everywhere, roses. Great bushes of them rampaged up the trees: a blue spruce was half smothered with sprays of vivid Persian pink, and one dense bush of frilled white roses must have been ten feet high. There were moss roses, musk roses, damask roses, roses pied and streaked, and one old pink rose straight from a medieval manuscript, hemispherical as if a knife had sliced it across, its petals as tightly whorled and packed as the layers of an onion. There must have been twenty or thirty varieties there, all in full bloom; old roses, planted years ago and left to run wild, as if in some secret garden whose key is lost. The place seemed hardly real.”

Undeterred, Lucy is intrigued to find herself living so near to the much-respected Sir Julian Gale, as she hopes to have an opportunity to discover why Sir Julian has left the acting world under such mysterious circumstances. She finds herself as interested in the island’s inhabitants, as she is in the beauty of her surroundings.

Of course, events conspire to a meeting between the two, in which Sir Julian proves to be a perfectly charming host, in the Sir Laurence Olivier mould. He is witty, urbane, charismatic, and as polite to Lucy as if she were not the nobody in the acting world that she is at the moment, but a successful West End actress from his own theatrical echelons. Max is a musician and composer, who is currently absorbed in writing a film score. His father is engrossed in developing theories about “The Tempest”, in order to write a book, and he explains these to Lucy. In Shakespeare’s play, Prospero, the Duke of Milan, and his daughter had been had been set adrift in the hope that they would drown. Prospero’s brother would usurp his position, in his stead, but the two end up on the island. Sir Julian Gale is convinced that Shakespeare based the island in “The Tempest” on Corfu, and explains in great details why he believes Corfu to be the model for Prospero’s island, in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.

These characters are from Lucy’s own, slightly privileged world. But there are also local characters, who are Corfiotes, or inhabitants native to Corfu. Some of these cross over to Lucy’s world, by way of Maria, who assisted by her daughter Miranda, is housekeeper to Phyl. She also has a son, Spiro, Maria’s twin, whose godfather is Sir Julian Gale. Godfrey Manning has employed Spiro to feature in his photographs of Corfu, and the two have semi-tamed one of the dolphins who regularly visit the island, resulting in some stunning images for the book.

Lucy soon comes across the playful dolphin, when she is swimming, but is horrified when she hears a shot whizzing past. Someone hidden from view, just as she herself appears hidden from them, is taking pot shots at the mammal. Rather recklessly, and without thinking, Lucy jumps out into the open and deliberately causes a stir, in order to surprise them into backing off. The shots had rung out from the forest, but Max denies that he, nor his father Sir Julian, were the culprits. Besides, Lucy is trespassing on property she shouldn’t be on. But who could possibly be shooting at a dolphin in this paradise, and why?

This episode comes very early in the book, and in chapter three, Lucy’s peaceful idyll is further shattered when Maria’s teenage son goes missing, falling overboard during a boat trip with Godfrey Manning, and is presumed drowned. Just a little later Lucy stumbles across the body of a fisherman, and there are several other mysterious occurrences. Clearly something is terribly wrong on this apparently idyllic island. Lucy is sure there must be a connection between the two, and soon begins to wonder just who she can trust.

The portrayal of the native inhabitants of Corfu is a little uncomfortably Anglo-centric, but perhaps they are to be seen through Lucy’s eyes. They are, for the large part, naive and rather to keen to help and respect any English person. One exception to the rule is Adoni, or Adonis, who not only looks like a young Greek god, but is highly intelligent, and a risk-taker. I think Mary Stewart had a lot of jokey fun with this character! The Corfiotes are presented as kind, resourceful and self-sufficient; content with very little in the way of modern trappings. We learn a little of their traditions, and their faith. The embalmed body of Saint Spyridon, (or Spiridion, as the novel says) the patron saint and protector of the island was returned to Corfu in 1453, from Constantinople, when it fell to the Ottomans. The relics are respectfully wheeled through the island (in his glass case) in procession every Palm Sunday, for veneration by the faithful, and also every year at the Festival of Saint Spyridon.

This Rough Magic has a similar feel to “The Moonspinners” which is set on another Greek island, Crete, and the writing about the native inhabitants comes across in both as slightly indulgent, in a rather paternalistic, English way. However, good use is made of the location, particularly its history and political relationship with the mainland. For instance, Phyllida’s housekeeper Maria’s husband is imprisoned in Albania, and we learn that Corfu has had a complicated and chequered history. Smuggling is still rife. Could this be the answer to the many mysterious events? And if so, who is master-minding it all?

Admittedly the novel is a tad formulaic, but the plot moves at great speed, especially towards the nail-biting ending. It is a real page-turner. Some parts are predictable enough, such as Lucy’s romantic involvement with , but Sir Julian Gale’s surprise contributions to the story are a real treat. The explanation of the political background of Corfu, Albania and Greece is gripping, and it is as well to remember that in 1964, when this novel was written, Albania was Communist, and relations between the countries was delicate.

The descriptions of Corfu are mesmerising, and enchant the reader, as only Mary Stewart’s heady rhapsodic prose can. There are some wonderful scenes in this book, and I freely admit that this one gets an extra star from me for the description of Lucy’s initial encounter with the dolphin, and all the other times the dolphin appears. For me, the dolphin is one of the most important characters in the book. My heart was in my mouth for several pages at one point,

All in all, This Rough Magic is a great light read. The happy couple are united at the end, and Lucy’s confession that she really wasn’t really a very good actress adds an extra depth of insight, showing the all too human, fallible side of this main character. Her acting skills prove essential to the plot, and I also appreciate this touch. I feel that Lucy Waring is a engaging and convincing heroine: compassionate, fiercely protective of what she cares about, with a strong sense of what is right and just, and the ability to express it:

“Why did one always feel such a fool when it was a matter of kindness — what the more sophisticated saw as sentimentality?”

And here’s another little pearl of wisdom:

“It seems to me you can be awfully happy in this life if you stand aside and watch and mind your own business, and let other people do as they like about damaging themselves and each other. You go on kidding yourself that you’re impartial and tolerant and all that, then all of the sudden you realize you’re dead and you’ve never been alive at all. Being alive hurts.”

The sparring between the two, with seeming to appear from nowhere to bother her whenever she is least expecting it, provides us with knowing humour. The villain of the piece, is revealed about half way through, and from then on we are cheering the goodies and booing the baddies. And if you guess that and deserve to enjoy the denouement even more.

The final sprinkle of magical fairy dust on this confection, comes by way of the ending. Everything is always tied up nicely in a Mary Stewart novel, but this one, set in what many believe to be the real-life setting of “The Tempest”, has its own mystical component, if you choose to interpret it that way. There are two episodes which lean to this other-worldly, spiritual interpretation.

““…[the road] swooped clean down the side of Pantokrator in a series of tight-packed hairpin bends which I suppose were steep and dangerous, but which we took at a speed that carried us each time to the very verge, where a tuft or so of daisies or a small stone would catch us and cannon us back onto the metal. The tyres screeched, the god shouted gaily, the smell of burning rubber filled the night, and down we went, in a series of bird like swoops which carried us at last to the foot of the mountain and the level of the sea.”

The exciting and confrontational closing scene at the Castello dei Fiori, involving one of the cast giving the performance of a lifetime, is perfect cinema fodder. I am very surprised that this story does not appear to have been filmed. I do rather wish that Lucy had returned to thank the Corfiotes, who had, to a one, given of themselves, and of their meagre possessions, so unstintingly. Sadly, it is all of a piece with the paternalistic feel towards the Corfiotes.

Perhaps four stars is a little generous, but all in all I found this fast moving, action packed tale, with its suggestions of smugglers and shady dealings, with a whisper of political intrigue and murder, in an exotic and sparkling setting: the sunny Greek island of Corfu, in the Ionian Sea, made a happy reading experience for me. In my opinion, This Rough Magic is one of the better of Mary Stewart’s books, and a good one to start with if you have never read her, and are wondering which to try.

“This rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.”
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book487 followers
March 25, 2016
How to create the perfect romantic suspense novel:
1. select a stirring and exotic setting, like the isle of Corfu in Greece, with caves and hidden grottos.
2. conjure up a castle in somewhat spotty repair
3. add a plucky but somewhat naive heroine and a disdainful and gorgeous hero.
4. mix in a few blood-chilling dangers (with sports cars and fancy boats)
5. weave in a dolphin and a Persian cat.

Then put all these ingredients into the hands of a wordsmith extraordinaire, and voila, you have a story that makes you smile and cringe while your pulse races.

I love Mary Stewart. She has style and class and she lends them to her characters with exuberance. For the space of a few days, you suspend all disbelief and you are whisked away into a world as unlike your own as can be imagined and yet as possible as the one you occupy.

I am revisiting all of Mary Stewart's novels, after so many years between that it is like reading them for the first time. I enjoyed this as much today as I did in the 1960s.
Profile Image for Kim.
426 reviews507 followers
February 21, 2013

First published in 1964, this novel is set on the Greek island of Corfu, where out-of-work English actress Lucy Waring goes to stay with her sister, whose wealthy husband’s family owns an estate on the island. There she becomes embroiled in a mystery involving reclusive actor Sir Julian Gale, his brusque son Max, photographer Godfrey Manning, diverse islanders , a cute cat and a very appealing dolphin.

The title is a quote from Act V Scene I of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Prospero decides to give up sorcery, saying:

To the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck'd up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure.

Stewart connects the novel to Shakespeare’s play in a variety of ways: Lucy’s sister refers to her unborn child as Caliban (a bit cruel, I thought), Sir Julian Gale expounds on his theory that Corfu is the island on which the play is set, his son Max is composing the score for a film adaptation of the play, a young Greek brother and sister are named Miranda and Spiro (sounds like Prospero!) and each chapter starts with a quote from the play. I assumed that Stewart was going somewhere with this. But she wasn’t heading anywhere in particular, which was disappointing. There are no usurpers, no magic and not even a storm.

Even though the promised connection to “The Tempest” was a fizzer, the novel nevertheless has some nice features. Stewart is great at setting a scene and her descriptions of Corfu are enticing enough to make me wish I could head there for a few weeks by the sea. She writes good dialogue and her heroine has a nice line in self-deprecating humour. The last few chapters were suspenseful enough for me to read them in one sitting and the ending was fun, if rather chaotic and implausible.

Stewart’s writing is dated. Some of this adds charm to the work, such as what seems to be an excessive interest in the quick-drying properties of nylon underwear. Some of it is less charming and simply dated. For example, Lucy’s pregnant sister downs a scotch and suggests that she wouldn’t mind if her husband beat her when he found out that she had lost a diamond ring. Aspects of the work that prompted some eye rolling include the heroine falling in love within a matter of minutes with someone she had previously disliked and the villain confessing all the details of his villainy to someone he intended to kill, a device which drives me nuts when it happens in crime fiction.

I would probably have liked this novel a lot more had I been a fan of Mary Stewart when I was in my teens or twenties, as there’s something so comforting about going back to favourite author. As it is, the whole romantic suspense genre passed me by. While there’s quite a bit I like about Stewart’s writing and I’ll probably read more of it, she’s not destined to become one of my favourite authors. That said, I had lots of fun participating in the buddy read of this novel with members of the Mary Stewart Group.
Profile Image for Hannah.
796 reviews
July 20, 2016
It's been a great personal pleasure to pull out copies of my Mary Stewart books and read them again with some of my GR friends as group reads. This Rough Magic has long been one that I had fond memories of reading several decades ago, but as every reader knows, sometimes time (and maturity) has a way of changing our perceptions of books we enjoyed when younger. Thankfully, my fond memories of this novel remain fond; This Rough Magic is just as magical, just as suspenseful and just as enjoyable a read in 2013 as it was in the 1980's. I have aged , but Stewart's incomparable descriptive prose and exciting gothic suspense fare is still fresh, lovely and more subtly witty then I remember.

References to Shakespeare's The Tempest headline each chapter, and are incorporated into the plot. The characters, while firmly dated to the early 1960's (when this was penned), may cause a few readers to wince over the outdated mores and social conventions, but if modern readers can overlook these things, they may enjoy the Stewart's subtle humor and her evocative way of setting a scene - in this case, the island of Corfu.

Be prepared to fall in love with a dolphin, bite your nails as our heroine finds herself in a life-and-death struggle, boo/hiss the villain of the story (a really nasty piece of work), and happily close the final page of yet another successful Mary Stewart novel.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,578 reviews400 followers
November 7, 2022
2022 Review
I'm not usually a huge fan of quotes before chapters but the more familiar I am with this story, the more I enjoy how these lines from The Tempest foreshadow the upcoming chapter.

2020 Review
I thought I loved this book for the dolphin scene so when I re-read it and didn't find it quite as romantic as I had built it up in my head, I felt some disappointment. But then I kept reading and I just adored the last quarter of the story. It is Lucy against the villain; Lucy against the elements; Lucy saving herself and saving the day. It is action packed and delightful. Despite the fact that it took me a bit to get into my re-read, I think this one remains my favorite Stewart.

2019 Review
Conveniently, The Tempest is the only play by Shakespeare I have a passing acquaintance with, so I enjoyed all the extra elements sprinkled throughout this book referencing it.
But mostly I just adore Mary Stewart. I adore her so much I put up with all the plot elements I would normally despise in another novelist. Like insta-love. And grumpy, violence-prone male leads.
But by golly, the writing sure draws me in. I like how another reviewer put it: these are female adventure novels. They contain strong, female leads, passionate romance that leaves much to the imagination, and exciting chase scenes.
Or in the case of this one, communists and scenic beaches. Definitely another favorite.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,381 followers
March 27, 2020
Mary Stewart makes literary references feel like affection instead of affectation. That's a neat trick. Most writers can't pull it off. It feels like she's indulging herself - sitting on a hillside veranda over the ocean in one of those flappy gauzy robe things that women wear on vacations. Much of the book has that feeling: like she went on a vacation to Corfu, a Greek island, and almost accidentally turned a book out while she was there. You picture her ambling down with a glass of wine. "Me? I've been writing, darlings. It's a murder mystery about a dolphin."

The main reference is The Tempest, Shakespeare's takeoff on Love Island. Aging actor Julian Gale plays Prospero, and ingenue Lucy Waring is Miranda. The dolphin is Ariel. The title of the book is from Prospero's final speech:
This rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.

And of course that leaves the looming question: Where's Caliban?

The problem is that on the way to Caliban we must be interrupted by this ghastly silly love plot, which Mary Stewart seems no more interested in than we are. Julian's son Max is supposed to be some sort of Brontean hot jerk, but faster than you can say "Can you tie up a dolphin" he flips into flowery declarations of love and spends the rest of the book mooning about. Stewart seems to lose interest in the book itself as she goes; once she's set the plot in motion, she more or less abandons it.

This is a popular book by one of the great "romantic suspense" writers, so obviously the romance works for some folks. But I'm left feeling like I would have had more fun sitting on the veranda in Corfu listening to her talk about it than I did reading the product. I imagine her looking out - smoking, probably - as a dorsal fin briefly breaks the surface of the ocean. "Maybe I'll put a dolphin in it," she murmurs casually. "Why not?"
Profile Image for Vintage.
2,390 reviews443 followers
June 26, 2020
I first found this at my grandmothers as a kid, and it holds up as pretty much any Mary Stewart book does. She was the master of romantic suspense. My four star rating may be partly due to nostalgia.

This one takes place on Corfu in the mid 50s, and the story and the location are immersed in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It’s as much an introduction to the island as it is a mystery/suspense. This book and My Family and Other Animals give a such a beautiful glimpse of what sounds like a gorgeous island.

The veddy British Lucy is visiting her sister on Corfu to relax from a failed season in London as an actress. Swimming on the beach she’s enchanted by a dolphin that plays in the bay. She’s shocked when someone tries to shoot at the dolphin and jumps in the water to drive it away. In fury, she races to confront the person she thought was taking shots at it.



From there the book pulls in two male interests, a damaged Shakespearian actor of epic proportions a la Olivier or Gielgud, more of the dolphin, and the death of a Corfiote that sets the suspense in motion.

Max Gale

Sir Julian


I just finished listening to the audio which was well done overall, but the narrator was a little too breathy which made Lucy sound a little weaker than she is.

Except for one very, very stupid damsel in distress decision that Stewart has Lucy do for an exciting plot point, she’s a pretty cool heroine with a nice head in her shoulders. There is romance and for the time their clinches were steamy, but more steamy in intent rather than anything explicit on the page.

There is an awesome rescue by a unforeseen, almost magical hero, and I use the term hero as in rescuer rather than love interest. I don't want to spoil it if anyone decides to read it as it's a nice whimsical touch in a well done book.

St. Spyridion

Castello’s Rose Garden

1950s Jaguar XK150

Corfiote costume
Profile Image for Debbie Zapata.
1,784 reviews35 followers
March 6, 2020
Every so often when I read Mary Stewart I say to myself that I have found a new favorite title. (Well, favorite after Airs Above The Ground, which will always be number one in my barn.) But anyway, I have to say that this book is now definitely my new favorite.

Set on the island of Corfu, this was such a fast-paced story that I could barely keep up with myself while reading it. And I am suffering a bit just now from lack of sleep since I simply HAD to get to the end last night!

As usual, Stewart brings the location to vivid life, but here the information she blends into the story does not seem like a tour guide's lecture, it feels more as if the reader is actually exploring the island for herself. I liked that, it seemed much less overwhelming and did not disrupt the flow of the story for me at all.

I also liked main character Lucy Waring a lot. She was an aspiring actress whose play had closed so she took advantage of a visit to a sister in Corfu to recover from professional embarrassment. But of course, while there she learns about and gets very much involved in suspicious activities going on, and she also has to decide which of two attractive men is the Hero and which is the Bad Guy. Will she choose the right one?

She may have been hesitant about that choice, but she certainly wasn't afraid to speak her mind when she felt the need to do so. Here is what she said to one guy who told her that there was no room for sentiment in a man's world.
"Funny, isn't it, how often that so-called 'man's world' works out as a sort of juvenile delinquents' playground? Bombs and lies and cloak-and-dagger nonsense and uniforms and loud voices."

Right on, Sister!

Aspects of Shakespeare's play The Tempest was woven throughout the story, which helped make it all a little extra magical. And don't worry, you don't have to be completely familiar with the play to understand the references. Everything gets explained in the course of conversation between our characters. This book might make you want to go read the play, though. It has me wanting to go for a re-read, so onto my Someday Soon lists it will go!

Oh, and talking about magical, how about the dolphin?! What a lovely creature! Our Lucy was so lucky to have met him! I am so jealous!
Profile Image for Hana.
522 reviews293 followers
January 6, 2015
Mary Stewart created the romantic thriller genre and here she is at the top of her game. There is so much to like here: a magnificent setting on the Ionian island of Corfu, magical scenes and descriptions, a great plot and splendid pacing; but what I love best about this book is its heroine, actress Lucy Waring...and, of course, the dolphin.

description/><br /><br />To get back to Lucy -- she is older than many of Mary Stewart's protagonists. She has a career and, while she is just starting out, she clearly approaches her work with professionalism and intelligence--and with no whining about the lack of money or plays folding. She's incredibly well read and knows her Shakespeare backwards and forwards. She is observant, self-aware, alert to the slightest nuance in vocal tone and expression--qualities that reflect her training, but that also bode well for a long and productive career. <br /><br />Lucy loves people and animals and can't help but spring into action to rescue everything from baby birds to beached dolphins. She is fierce in her defense of the helpless and hurt, and never lets fear get the better of her. She has a wonderfully healthy, loving relationship with her sister and a natural gift for making friends.<br /><br />Yes, of course she falls in love in the book, but she doesn't need her man to defend her, she just swings into action and naturally (and correctly) assumes that her beloved will be a partner just as caring, decisive, resourceful and courageous as she is.<br /><br />Click on the comments to see some of my favorite plot points illustrated with photos of actual Corfu locations!
Profile Image for Jane.
820 reviews614 followers
September 17, 2018
Since I discovered what a wonderful writer Mary Stewart was – not so many years ago, though my mother had recommended her books many years earlier – I have come to love her writing and I have traveled to many wonderful places by book, in the company of a captivating band of heroines.

I have been to the Pyrenees, to a Scottish island, to a French Chateau, to Delphi, to the heart of the English countryside, to Vienna, to a palace in the Lebanon ....

So many grand adventures.

My latest adventure, that I undertook to celebrate Mary Stewart's date in the Birthday Book of Neglected Lady Authors, took me to the isle of Corfu, which is said by many to be the setting of 'The Tempest' by William Shakespeare.

Young actress Lucy Waring comes to Corfu at the invitation of her elder sister Phyllidia, who has retired to her husband's family's holiday home to escape the heat of summer in the city while she awaits the birth of a child. The invitation is timely, because Lucy's play has closed after just two weeks, she has no other work in the offing, and it seems politic for her to be unavailable.

Lucy was thrilled to discover that the property nearest to their villa had been rented to Sir Julian Gale, one of the brilliant lights of England's theatrical world. Her hopes of meeting him were quickly dashed by her sister, who told her that all was well with the great man and that his composer son, Max, would not welcome visitors

Lucy would soon meet Max Gale, and the circumstances were unfortunate. She had made friends with a captivating dolphin that swan very close to the shore, and when she heard shots and realised that somebody was shooting at the dolphin from the rocks above the cove she was appalled. The only person she saw up there was Max, and she told him exactly what she thought ….

That was the first sign that something was terrible wrong, and there would be others.

Mary Stewart uses the early chapters of this novel to establish her setting, her characters, and the different elements of her story. She does it well. The cast was interesting, the setting was beautifully evoked, and there were many different aspects to the story. I've read enough of her romantic suspense stories to correctly identify the romantic hero and the dastardly villain, but I wasn't at all sure how all the pieces of the story would fit together.

As I read on the drama accelerated, on land and at sea, and I found that all of the pieces fitted together perfectly in a very tightly constructed plot.

Lucy was bright, capable and resourceful young woman, and I found it very easy to like her and to understand her feelings and her actions. She was headstrong, she was inclined to act first and think later, so I can't say that I always approved or her action or that I would have done the same thing in her position, but I could always appreciate why she spoke and acted was she did, and that she was motivated by her concern for the people and places that she loved.

The setting is so beautifully and lovingly described that I was transported, and I didn’t doubt for one second that it this story was inspired by a place that Mary Stewart knew and loved. It is a story that could only have been told in this particular place and at this particular point in its history.

There were some wonderful moments. My favourite came just before that story really took off, when Lucy stumbled into the most beautiful, wild, rambling garden of roses, leading into her first meeting with Sir Julian Gale, who was not at all as she had expected ….

The action was wonderful, it used the setting wonderfully well, I was always held in the moment with Lucy, and so I was able to forgive the unlikeliness of it all.

I find the swift progress of the central romance less easy to forgive; and, not for the first time, I found myself wishing that Mary Stewart would allow her heroine and her hero to work together, to become friends, with a promise or a suggestion of romance to come.

Those were the disappointments, but there was much more that I loved.

The prose was gorgeous - I was never too far from a lovely description or an interesting plot development - The allusions to 'The Tempest' were beautifully done and cleverly woven into the story - The details of character and setting were tended to very well.

'This Rough Magic' was a fine piece of storytelling, and a marvellous entertainment.

It is a book that many people who wouldn't pick up an old book would love. Some might find it a little old-fashioned, a little contrived even, but I can't think of anyone who came after Mary Stewart has crafted tales of romantic suspense with such literacy, such care for the characters and the settings, such wonderfully told stories ….

I could happily turn back to the beginning of this book and be caught up in the story all over again. I won’t, because so many other books are calling, but I will pick up another of Mary Stewart’s books - to read or to re-read -very soon.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 27 books5,627 followers
March 30, 2021
There's definitely a formula to these Mary Stewart mysteries, and yet it's comforting and fun.

A young career woman on holiday encounters a mystery, usually involving two handsome and just slightly older men. There's a murder, cocktails are drunk in outdoor cafes, locals provide exemplary service as well as plenty of superstitions and/or legends that may or may not hold the key to the murder. It occurred to me recently that they're not unlike Nancy Drew for adults. And who doesn't love Nancy Drew, amirite?

In this case, Lucy is an actress, though not a very successful one, and she is visiting her sister on the island of Corfu. Alson on the island there's a famous actor who has retired from the stage under mysterious circumstances, his musician son, a handsome photographer, and various local legends, an inquisitive dolphin, and a lot of strange nighttime "fishing" excursions that the men don't want to talk about. I really enjoyed all the talk about finding proof that Corfu is the setting of The Tempest, which provides this book with its title and chapter headings.
Profile Image for Andrea AKA Catsos Person.
792 reviews101 followers
January 14, 2017
This was the first book I read by MS and I found out about it bec someone on my Flist is in the MS group as a mod, I think.

I fell in love with MS's wonderful, lush descriptions of outdoor scenery of Corfu and its festivals.

Reading these were truly a sensory experience. My senses of sight and smell were fully engaged as I read this book. She managed to create images in my minds eye wo the use of the Internet for research.

I wasn't that impressed with the romance though. It seemed to come out of nowhere. But I think it seemed so because I didn't know this is a "romantic" thriller.

The thriller part of the story overshadowed the romance and could have stood on its own wo the romance tacked on at the end.

A really memorable read.
Profile Image for Lee at ReadWriteWish.
613 reviews79 followers
January 22, 2021
This is my 5th Mary Stewart read and I’m still utterly in love with her.

Okay, my cynical heart will admit she sticks to a strict formula. But she does it so well, I don’t care.

Our heroine this time is Lucy, a theatre actress who finally got the lead in a play only to have it be a dud. Licking her wounds, she escapes London to travel to Corfu, where her wealthy sister resides. Expecting peace and tranquility, Lucy instead gets wrapped up in murder.

Stewart’s descriptive passages are, as usual, sublime. If you can’t picture the crystal clear water off the coast of the island, its ancient ruins, the smaller villages of helpful but poor locals, the flowers and lushly landscaped surrounds of the luxury Villas where these rich Brits live, or even the underground caves and wine cellars beneath them, well… Well, that can't happen. Stewart prose makes the reader picture them as easily as a photograph.

Stewart’s action scenes also are so easy to follow and imagine. From scuffles with guns to a tussle on board a boat, the reader never has to pause and just wonder what is going on.

Another thing she can do better than most is suspense and tension. There’s always a subtlety to the suspense at first (the leading ladies always think perhaps they are imagining danger when there might be none), then, Stewart ramps things up until your heart is thumping. And Stewart can make the most mundine moments, like an unanswered telephone call, become sinister.

Talking of tension, Stewart can do sexual tension also like no other. The chemistry between Lucy and her love interest crackles off the page. So often I read a modern romance and whinge that the leading couple has zero chemistry. I don’t imagine I’d ever have that complaint about a Stewart book. I definitely didn’t with This Rough Magic! I was, as they say, shipping it hard!

Out of the rest of the supporting characters, Lucy's sister's neighbour, the world famous actor Sir Julian Gale, is an absolute stand out. He’s hilarious and tragic at the same time and I really can’t understand why this novel was never adapted into a movie somewhere along the line because Sir Julian would have been so much fun on screen and whoever played him would have been instantly up for a supporting actor award. (I love all the Goodreads reviews where the readers/reviewers have ‘cast’ the book. I will admit that I instantly cast Sir Patrick Stewart as Sir Julian.)

And, of course, Corfu is another character. It’s not really a location I was familiar with before the book but it certainly made me fall in love with it. I also learnt a lot about Albania. I am rather ignorant about its political history and ended up on the internet after finishing This Rough Magic, reading up on the country and, in particular, being fascinated by the length of time it remained isolated due to communism.

Obviously I recommend This Rough Magic and I’m still keen to read some more Stewart titles. My head tells me that the book might be a little dated which should result in a less than perfect rating but my heart says it’s in charge today, so 5 out of 5.
Profile Image for Claire.
186 reviews51 followers
February 6, 2017
So so charming. You know a book is good when you find yourself smiling while reading it. The rose garden, the friendly dolphin, the white Persian cat, and the exciting motorcycle ride along the Corfu coast. What's not to like?
Profile Image for Abigail Bok.
Author 4 books191 followers
December 25, 2022
This Rough Magic is many people’s favorite romantic thriller by Mary Stewart but not mine. The heroine is not as smart as in some of the others, and the hero is too brooding-alpha for my taste. But it’s competently put together for the most part and the last third is hard to put down.

Lucy Waring is a stage actress in her twenties who heads for the island of Corfu to spend time with her pregnant sister after the show she’s in has folded. She’s there to soak up the sun and divert her sister, whose banker husband is stuck in Italy for the time being.

Of course, little of that restful agenda gets to be followed. The first time Lucy heads down to the beach for a swim, somebody starts taking potshots at a dolphin in the water, narrowly missing her, and the mystery plot is off and running. At first she suspects the old actor next door who has retired to Corfu under a cloud, or perhaps his cranky son, keeping watch over his father and writing the score for a movie adaptation of The Tempest (the play from which the book’s title is drawn). Then there’s the manly photographer living on the other side of Lucy’s sister, whose assistant has apparently just drowned. And there are various other Corfiote natives in service to the English to round out the cast. In no time, Lucy is detecting and having her life threatened.

This Rough Magic is best swallowed whole, because if you stop to think about it, various bits don’t really add up. And unlike many of Stewart’s novels, it shows the machinery of the story ticking along behind the scenes. Much of the plot is only enabled by Lucy’s decisions to withhold information and put herself unnecessarily in danger, problems Stewart is uneasily aware of and that she tries vainly to justify.

There are beautiful descriptions of the natural surroundings and glamorous lifestyles aplenty, suspense enlivened with some romance, and a handful of culture thrown into the pot via the Tempest references, but this book doesn’t hang together as well as some of Stewart’s other books.
Profile Image for Tweety.
433 reviews198 followers
March 20, 2015
Another Fiver by Mary Stewart!

Once again I'm opting out of doing a summery as I'd do a lousy job and probably give it all away. So, to begin.

I honesty didn't have a clue what was going on in the first four chapters, and I didn't see or care what The Tempest had to do with anything. But, that aside it was a jolly good read. In fact, it was just as good as I hoped it would be. My only complaint is I knew to some extent what was going to happen. (that didn't spoil my enjoyment, hence the high rating)

Lucy Waring had everything you could want in a heroine, spirit, ingenuity, strong opinions and no fear of letting others know what she thinks of them. I loved her affection for animals, she put their welfare above her own.

The hero was, well a hero. I can't really say to much about him and risk giving it all away but, I think as soon as you start reading you'll know who's who. I loved the retired actor, he was so quaint. And yet, there were tales going about that he was not what he seemed, that he wasn't all there. Now for one of my favorite characters… the Dolphin.

He, (I think it was a he) was enchanting! I wanted to play with him, dive under the waves with him and generally explore the cove. Mary Stewart shines when it comes to animals and children, because of this I could not give this the four I normaly would have. It was too touching.


To top it all off there was the lovely ending in a true Mary Stewart style. Nothing was missing, there was adventures in secret caves, midnight boat excursions, swimming among bullets and hidden treasure. How could I not have loved it?

PG for a mild bit of violence, some swearing, cigarettes and the alluding to paranormal. It was not paranormal, but there is mention of a legend with a sorcerer who supposedly cast spells. As the reader this is very much left in the dark, you don't ever sit down and hear the full legend, merely a village girl's belief that the strange things happening mean the legend it true.

My Favorites so far by Mary Stewart

1# Wildfire at Midnight★★★★★
2# Madam, Will You Talk? ★★★★★
3# Nine Coaches Waiting ★★★★★
4# This Rough Magic ★★★★★
5# The Moon-Spinners ★★★★ 1/2
6# The Ivy Tree ★★★★
7# Airs Above the Ground★★★ 1/2
Profile Image for MomToKippy.
205 reviews82 followers
November 9, 2014
Stewart is incredible at creating atmosphere. The story takes place on the Greek island of Corfu in the isolated cliff side surroundings of a castle and two villas with a crescent beach in between. You can not read this without feeling as if you are there every step of the way with the protagonist, Lucy. The sounds, the smells, the colors of the flowers, the feel of the water, the breeze are all there. Art, dolphins, mystery, colorful characters, hidden caves, local culture are all brought to life. Lucy, being an actress, is very in tune with every subtle nuance of others, facial expressions, tone of voice, movement and thus so are we. The effect is amazing. Some scenes are simply spellbinding. I am not sure these details could be any better conveyed on the screen.

The story is very angsty with a bit of humor thrown in. I am not a mystery/thriller reader in general so this is a bit uncomfortable (creepy) for me. All the characters behave suspiciously at one point or another which keeps one guessing. One thing that is a little implausible is that Lucy repeatedly puts herself in very risky situations that no sane person would even contemplate. I can't expand on this without spoilers but it borders on ridiculous. But of course, if she did not, it wouldn't be very creepy would it?

This is definitely a plot-driven story as well as historical fiction, but I would not categorize it as romance at all. There is no logical precedence for the tiny bit of romance that does evolve so that aspect is pretty silly. It is quite eye-rolling so I am not sure why the author bothers with it. This weakness made me contemplate the character development as a whole. This is where things are lacking and why it is not a 5 star book for me. I don't "feel" any of the characters and there is no magical interaction between any of them. The relationships are not well developed and for all the profuse imagery we are given about the setting and action details, I am still wondering what Lucy really looks like?

So 4 stars for the atmosphere, imagery, clever plot, humor but minus 1 for Lucy's dubious behavior, unfounded romance and weakish character development.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
March 12, 2013
This was exactly what I needed after handing in my dissertation yesterday. Adventures and romance with a touch of danger, but where you're pretty sure it'll turn out okay in the end, and if you've read any Mary Stewart at all, you know it'll end with a wedding. There's your usual plucky heroine, a couple of potential love interests, and the usual exotic setting, this time in Corfu, and this time laced with Shakespeare -- which might put some people off, because I don't tend to like books that try to do something with Shakespeare, whether it be modern retellings (which makes me wonder why I did pick up a copy of Anne Fortier's Juliet -- sheer curiosity, I suppose) or finding a lost sonnet or love affair or the true identity of Shakespeare. But this doesn't aspire to such lofty heights: one of the characters claims that Corfu was the setting of The Tempest, but there's not too much emphasis on that. Rather, it's about smuggling and murder and our brave heroine throwing herself into the middle of that, making assumptions, and at the end falling into the comforting arms of her lover.

So, Mary Stewart as usual. This one is fun, and while I didn't find it quite as atmospheric as, say, My Brother Michael, when it came to evoking the landscape, still it was there and very clearly drawn. I was amused by the reference to colonialism in the way that Lucy mocked the guide talking about Corfu "coming under the protection of" the British Empire, when of course the whole book is still rife with that attitude -- her condescending attitude toward the Corfiotes and their religion, the fact that they needed a bunch of British people to sort out their problems, the savage side of them that's revealed toward the end of the book... It's mostly benign, but it's still there if you open your eyes to it. Fortunately, since I've read a fair few Mary Stewart novels now, I was expecting it and it is, of course, very much of its time.

So all in all, another fun outing for me with Mary Stewart.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,688 reviews451 followers
June 3, 2019
I remember reading some Mary Stewart romantic suspense novels when I was in my late teens, and they were the perfect escape after a week of exams. Her plots move quickly, even if some elements are improbable, so her books are hard to put down. I also enjoy the beautiful settings and the Gothic atmosphere of her stories.

"This Rough Magic" is set in Corfu, a Greek island that lies close to the closed Communist country of Albania in the 1960s. Lucy, a likable young British actress, is spending time with her sister at a vacation home. It's a lovely area with beaches, a rocky coast, a playful dolphin, and secret caves. But violence lurks, and some young men are lost at sea. Lucy wonders who she can trust in this fast-paced mystery. Lucy is intelligent, but a little too daring.

The title, "This Rough Magic" comes from Shakespeare's "The Tempest". Lucy's neighbor is a famous older actor, Sir Julian, who is known for his role as the magician, Prospero. He wonders if Shakespeare was thinking of Corfu when he wrote the play. Sir Julian's son is a composer who is working on a score for "The Tempest". The author starts every chapter with a quote from the play. I came under the spell of the magic of Corfu and Mary Stewart, and found the book to be a page turner.

"...This rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book."
"The Tempest" Act 5, Scene 1
Profile Image for Susan in Perthshire.
1,582 reviews59 followers
April 25, 2018
Mary Stewart is the queen of the romantic thriller in my humble opinion. I hesitate to use the romance word because that can, in some folks eyes, downgrade a book! It shouldn’t, because if romance is about mystery, excitement and remoteness from everyday life then Mary Stewart’s books hit the mark. It’s a classic Mary Stewart - written in the early 1960s: - she describes a period familiar to her (and to me), but one which is as distant as Jane Austen’s era to those who were not even born then! Her heroine is as always, clever, self sufficient, passionate and able to travel. This time, we are on Corfu which happens to be the first place I ever visited in Greece and which sparked a love affair with all things Greek ever since. The plot is ingenious, the characters are nuanced, well developed and interesting and the location’s charms are described in glorious detail. Mary always includes references to art, music, history, politics, literature et al and these certainly add a richness to the story that is a delight to read. This story pays homage to Shakepeare’s the Tempest, but you don’t need to be an expert Shakespeare addict to enjoy the references. An added delight is the dolphin and the relationship our heroine creates. I loved this book when I read it when I was 15 and I have loved it ever since. A cracking good read and so satisfying!
Profile Image for Misfit.
1,637 reviews278 followers
February 22, 2013
"Here was I, Lucy Waring, being asked into the water for a game."

This Rough Magic follows the usual Mary Stewart formula - exotic setting (Corfu), heroine in peril, hero who doesn't seem like a hero at first and of course a rocking good mystery to be solved.

"The body was lying half in, half out, of the largest patch of shadow."

Despite being a bit dated (loved all the nylon clothing!), this was a lot of fun, especially the last 100 or so pages that were pretty darn near unputdownable.

Profile Image for Jeanette.
318 reviews73 followers
March 12, 2019
A thoroughly enjoyable read. Just the right amount of intrigue and suspense for a cozy read. The romantic bits might have been a little mawkish but I am willing to overlook that because the rest was so enjoyable.
Profile Image for Tammie.
1,323 reviews153 followers
December 14, 2019
When Lucy's sister Phyllida suggests that she join her for a quiet holiday on the island of Corfu, Lucy is overjoyed. Her work as an actress has temporarily come to a halt. But the peaceful idyll does not last long. A series of incidents, seemingly unconnected - but all surrounded in mystery - throws Lucy's life into a dangerous spin, as fear, danger and death - as well as romance - supplant the former tranquillity.

I finally got a Mary Stewart read in this year. I've been slowly working my way through her books for a few years now. Slowly because there are only so many of them, and I am really trying to savor them. That being said, some have been better than others, but I've never gone away feeling like I didn't enjoy any of them. From what I had read about her books, I really thought I had probably already read the best ones, but somehow I missed out on reading this one sooner. I think this one is one of my favorites. A big part of that, being that it reminded me a little of The Moonspinners. I love being transported to the Greek Isles by Mary Stewart. Each time she makes me feel as though I'm there. This time we are on beautiful Corfu.


I really want to go there someday, but for now I'll have to live vicariously through Mary Stewart's books.

As for the rest of the story, I thought it was very good, even though it was obvious who the perpetrator was. I liked the love interest and the main character was very capable. I really liked that about her. There is the standard Mary Stewart instalove, but it didn't bother me in this book. There were also some very suspenseful moments that kept me on the edge of my seat. I would probably rank this one 4th on my list.

Here's how I would rank the ones I've read so far.

1. The Moonspinners
2. Nine Coaches Waiting
3. Madam Will You Talk?
4. This Rough Magic
5. The Ivy Tree
6. My Brother Michael
7. Wildfire at Midnight
8. Airs Above the Ground
9. The Stormy Petrel

Review also posted at Writings of a Reader
Profile Image for Lori.
167 reviews6 followers
February 11, 2018
"'Most sure, the goddess
On whom these airs attend! Vouchsafe my prayer
May know if you remain upon this Island . . .'"

It will come as no surprise to anyone who is already a devoted fan of Mary Stewart that I found this book to be enormously entertaining!!! The same beautiful and intelligent writing style that I found so captivating in Stewart's Arthurian Saga, is a key ingredient in this romantic suspense.

I could not have wished for a more daring heroine than Lucy Waring! She rescues animals, even at her own peril! Truly, a girl after my own heart! Kate Beckinsale plays the part of Lucy in my film version of this story. The hero, Max Gale, is far from needing testosterone injections. Though he happens to be a musician, Stewart made him all boy. I conjured an image of him with that in mind, and a little imagination. I went with Daniel Craig. By the way, Stewart expertly creates a dishy romance between these two that is fairly steamy and yet, remains somewhere in the neighborhood of PG-13. How awesome is that???

The descriptions of the island are breathtaking! The supporting cast is colorful and quirky, my favorite kind, and the villain is downright nasty, once he is revealed. I will be reading The Tempest at some point in the near future; this is due to the wonderful references and quotes from the play that added so much atmosphere to this story! This book is not to be missed. Thankfully, I didn't have to because I have awesome friends on GR. I highly recommend this one!!

P.S. I am really going to miss the dolphin and the cat!!!

Read with the Mary Stewart group February, 2018. Just as much fun to read and share the second time through!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Dorcas.
658 reviews206 followers
September 19, 2014
3.5 Stars (Mary Stewart Group Read Sept 2014)

Well I started this a week earlier than I should have (got the dates mixed up) so I'm reviewing when I should just be starting to read. Nevermind. It happens.

I won't write a synopsis, that's been done many times. I'll just say that I enjoyed this, thought it was well written and was fairly gripping toward the end.

I liked the retro references to gold lipstick and nylon clothes which made me think of 60s films (gotta love em! ) and the dolphin was a nice touch too. Cigarette smoking was kept pretty much in its place in this one (MS characters are often chain smokers) which I found refreshing, although they do still smoke. Just not OTT. I thought that the h/h had fairly good chemistry but I would have enjoyed seeing them interact together a bit more.

I cant say I was steamrolled, though, by the plot. I could guess what was coming so unfortunately that curbed the suspense a bit. I would rate it about equal to Mary Stewart's The Moonspinners. Enjoyable but not neccesarily a reread.

Wildfire at Midnight is still sits top place in my affection :)


SEX: None. Some kissing and flirting
PROFANITY: Moderate (D, B, GD, H), particularly toward the end of the book.
VIOLENCE: Moderate violence in last quarter of book during "showdown ".

Profile Image for Martine Bailey.
Author 4 books125 followers
August 13, 2016
I picked this as my light reading for a holiday in Corfu and came home having decided that Mary Stewart has become my new guilty secret. This was a charming romantic mystery, depicting the island in the unspoilt 1960s, as seen through the eyes of glamorous resting actress Lucy Waring. Naturally she is staying at her brother-in-law’s glamorous cliff top residence and there are a few hunky but sophisticated men around to catch her eye. There is also a mystery element that threatened to be a sort of grown-up Enid Blyton but actually kept me gripped by its accelerating sense of jeopardy. It was fun, while holidaying on the island, to spot locations from the book - St Spiro’s church in Corfu town, Empress Elizabeth’s Achilleon and the ever threatening ‘communist’ coast of Albania. Ah, it was just shame that I wasn’t being whirled about in an open top sports car or at the prow of a smart sailing boat!
Some aspects are quaintly dated in an amusing way – the nylon underwear for example. But there’s also an old-fashioned misogyny that may not appeal to some (eg Lucy is ‘attacked’ by swarthy Max Gale and ‘treasures’ the bruise). There is also a veneer of culture to the confection, in the title and apposite quotes from The Tempest heading each chapter and some wry references to Prospero, Caliban and so on. I noticed one reader talked of reading a Mary Stewart as being like taking a holiday. I suspect that her escapist mysteries set around the Med will henceforth make packing one of her delightful novels an annual habit.
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