by Mary Stewart
With the recent death of Mary Stewart, I decided it was time to read her Merlin trilogy which had been on my radar for a long time. This is the first book which tells the story of Merlin's life from childhood to the point where the future King Arthur is conceived.
First off, the writing is excellent. I was deep in this story in a way that would normally generate 5 stars. The only reason it only got 4 is because towards the end, the artistic licence that an author of Arthurian fiction must necessarily take veered off into a direction I could not rectify historically.
One of the strengths of the story is that it has a lot of genuine historic references so that the tale of Arthur is painted against a backdrop of known facts. Ambrosius did come to England and route the Saxons in the year given; Vortigern and his son Vortimer are actual historic figures. Vortigern did try to build a stronghold in the place depicted, only to have it fall down time after time because of geological anomalies that Engineers of the time didn't understand.
Merlin himself is depicted as a very believable character, with the sole exception of his attitude towards Christianity near the end. I'm not anti-religion or anything, but a near-conversion doesn't work for Merlin. One could argue about the transitions of Paganism to Christianity around that era, but a student of history will know that it's about a thousand years too early in the fifth century for that level of flexibility between the sets of beliefs.
Despite that, I really enjoyed the book and had trouble putting it down. I'm starting the next book in the series next, The Hollow Hills. I'm also going to try some of Mary Stewart's other books, though I don't know when. She's a brilliant writer and I'm sorry that she's gone now.