The countryside of England and Wales in the Dark Ages forms an almost tangible background to this wonderfully and powerfully realised picture of an ...Show synopsisThe countryside of England and Wales in the Dark Ages forms an almost tangible background to this wonderfully and powerfully realised picture of an ancestral hero coming to manhood. The Hollow Hills is the brilliant portrayal of the young Arthur from his birth to accession to the throne of Britain. And behind and around him is the strong, yet vulnerable figure of Merlin who sees and knows so much but is powerless to prevent the strife and violence of his turbulent times. The Hollow Hills was first published in 1973 and tells the story of Merlin's guardianship of Arthur. He leads Arthur to the sword that tests his claim to power and the crown.Hide synopsis
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The second volume of Mary Stewart's Arthurian saga. The story, as before narrated by Merlin, begins where ?The Crystal Cave? ended, the morning after Arthur's conception, and follows his infancy in hiding, his early training and education until the age of 14 against the background of Uther's competent but uneasy reign. Although the petty kings are united under the High King's leadership, the constant Saxon threat erodes loyalties and breeds treachery and intrigue. The narrative brings to life this dark period in Britain's history with tremendous skill and the story-teller flair for which Lady Stewart is justly famous.
Everything that was exceptional about ?The Crystal Cave? is present: terrific sense of place and time, great character development, many fascinating players and sub-plots, the twists and turns of fate that still lead Merlin unerringly to the desired outcome, a generous sprinkling of magic that could be read as divine intervention or the serendipitous combination of a highly intelligent and accomplished man and the superstitious mentality of the times. Merlin's character is further developed almost as an anti-hero, with the gallant and impetuous young Arthur as a clear counterpoint, making them two of the most likeable fictional characters I have ever encountered.
At the end, Lady Stewart has added the legend (as recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth) and brief Author's Notes explaining how she built on what sparse and confused records remain, linking some facts and making plausible assumptions about others and, even more interestingly, what part of the story she has completely invented. Not surprisingly, one of my favourite episodes, that of the sword of Macsen, is entirely her own invention. I am not usually fond of historical literature but this book (and the whole series) reads more like a compelling novel. As usual with this author, despite some adult themes and the guts and gore that are inherent in battle scenes, the treatment is suitable for readers of almost all ages. This is a book I have read again and again and yet each time I find something new to capture my interest.
Merlin Ambrosius as written by Mary Stewart may be one of my favorite narrators. There is immense pleasure in how calm, intense, and sharp he is, and it gives an interesting edge to the narrative, because he isn't the type to spill his secrets in the narration. There is plenty of suspense in how he will solve each seemingly impossible conundrum as it comes his way. This sequel to "The Crystal Cave" picks up almost immediately after the events of the first book, with Merlin making his way back to his home and nursing his wounds from the fight at Tintagel. Once again there is incredible attention to period detail, which suffuses the entire book with a sense of authenticity. The Dark Ages of Britain are brought to roiling life once again.
What I really enjoy about Stewart's writing is that even though I am fairly familiar with the events of Arthurian legend (especially all of the tragic twists and turns), she puts her own spin on them to make sense for her narrative, and still manages to imbue the book and characters with a strong sense of hope in the future. When Arthur takes an accidental step that seals his fate, it twists in the reader like a knife, even though we all know how the story has to end, and we all know what has to happen for the story to be an adequate interpretation of Arthurian legend. The author's skill is in making us come along for the ride, invested with all our heart, despite our knowledge of legend.
This is a wonderful sequel to the Crystal Cave, however it could also stand alone as a fantastic novel on its own. Mary Stewart has taken the Authurian Legend and transformed it into a story with events and characters so vivid that you feel transported into their world. The cast of characters become part of your family as you wonder at the magic, anguish over thier trials and rejoice in thier joys and successes. For those not familiar to the trilogy...please read The Crystal Cave first, where you will meet and come to love the spirited boy who will grow into the powerful Merlin of this book...you will not regret it. Instead you will revel in your escape into this magical world of enchantment.
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