by mary stewart
i've long been meaning to read stewart's five-book retelling of the arthurian legend, but i just never seemed to get around to it. after reading phil rickman's the bones of avalon, a historical mystery whose title refers to the remains of king arthur, i had just enough arthurian legend to inspire me to seek out more. the choice actually came down to stewart's series or another very well-known one by t.h. white (who also wrote at least one mystery, as i only recently found out). in the end i went with the stewart series, the one that was most readily available at my local library.
the crystal cave is merlin's (myrddin emrys) book and as it sets the stage for the legend, arthur does not appear at all. as things kick off we are presented with merlin at six years old and even at this early age he and most of those around him are aware that he's different from most boys. he's not athletic like the other kids, he prefers to keep to himself and most notably he is given to flashes of insight that he doesn't quite understand yet, except to realize that they are not normal.
it's significant at this point that merlin does not know who his father is, something he'll discover in the course of the book. he lives at the court of his grandfather, one of many minor kings who dot the british landscape in this day and age and as the years pass he nearly falls victim to various political intrigues that eventually drive him from his home land. but not before he discovers the cave mentioned in the title and the man who lives there and becomes his mentor.
as merlin leaves britain he eventually takes up with ambrosius, the high king of britain, who is laying low, building up his forces in preparation for the day when he'll return to his chaotic home land and restore order. just as notably (and perhaps more so) merlin meets the king's brother uther. while they don't quite hit it off, their destinies will be inextricably intertwined as the story progresses.
ambrosius and uther are successful in the campaigns in their home land and after a time the former dies and uther assumes the crown. he is not nearly as level-headed as his late brother and essentially risks his kingdom to have the wife of a fellow nobleman. merlin lends a hand in seeing to it that uther has his way in this, but for motives that are entirely his own and it's right about here that the first book of the saga ends.
which was quite a yarn, if i do say so myself, and i wasted no time in moving onto the second volume - the hollow hills.