Review – The Hollow Hills

The Hollow HillsThis is the second book in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian legend series following The Crystal Cave. Some spoilers may apply.

Arthur is about to be born and Merlin is called on by Igraine and Uther to keep him safe, which he agrees to do until the time is right for the world to know of the new High King who will unite the land of Britain. Keeping a small child safe and well-hidden is not an easy task in a country fighting over land. When the time to reveal Arthur comes, Merlin is left in awe of the gods and Arthur as the new High King.

I love Arthurian legend and I liked The Crystal Cave very much. I’ve read only a few stories told with Merlin as the narrator and that was certainly a reason for picking up the series. However, this second book was extremely slow reading for me. At one point, I considered scrapping it and moving on but decided to keep going. I was rewarded in the end but there were way too many info dumps to get to that point. Stewart takes this story slow telling you everything about Merlin and repeating often told tales more than once. Yes, Merlin is the one telling you these things so he can explain how wrong it is or how valuable the tale is for the ages but, I don’t want all that. Maybe it’s because I’ve read so many Arthurian based books that I get bored with the back story sometimes, but I don’t think that was the case here. Frankly, the first part of the book was just boring. Merlin is roaming around making sure no one knows about Arthur but it’s boring with him meandering around. When he finally settles down, and meets Arthur, it does get more interesting.

Also, I wanted more of the magic and there isn’t much of that here. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as I don’t usually want magic in these tales but honestly, I just wanted something, anything other than what I had here. It was slow moving, meandered just as badly as Merlin rambling about the countryside, and was just boring in parts. Yes, I know I already said that but if Merlin can do it, so can I.
Here’s the deal I made with myself about this series. I have the third book in my house. I will read it and if it gets better, I’ll turn to the library for the rest. If it bores more, the series is done but I can say I gave it a good try. My quest to read Arthurian legend has not come to an end and I’m hoping Stewart’s third book makes up for it.

Did you read this? Thoughts? If you liked it, I want to hear why. My opinion is not the last. Also, here’s my review of The Crystal Cave. As you can see, I loved the first book.

The Hollow Hills

By Mary Stewart

William Morrow & Company

Book Club Edition

 

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Thoughts – The Mists of Avalon

This isn’t going to be regular review. Over the course of the seven weeks I spent reading The Mists of Avalon, I started writing down what I liked/didn’t like about this book and a few thoughts that I didn’t want to slip away. It may be a little disjointed but I’ll try to pull it back together at the end when I finish up this little experiment.

First, for those unfamiliar with this book, The Mists of Avalon is a re-telling of Arthurian legend from the perspective of the women. It closely follows with the generally known legend and all the characters are there. If you want a more detailed description, I give you this. Yes, it’s the lazy way but this is already a very long post.

Character-wise — I love the strong women. Igraine, the eventual wife of Uther Pendragon and the mother of King Arthur, is miserable and it’s hard to blame her. Especially when she finds out she’s really just a pawn for Viviane, her sister and priestess of Avalon, who has already once married her off to an older man and plans to marry her to the man who will be high king so she can bear him a son. Viviane is strong, not likeable, but admirable. She has strong convictions and even a few regrets especially for her family and the strains put on them by their fates. Morgaine, Igraine’s daughter by her first husband, the Duke of Cornwall, and to a certain extent, Viviane’s adopted daughter, becomes a priestess of Avalon. When she falls victim to Viviane’s fate machine, she runs when her life is essentially brought to ruins. Morgause, Igraine’s sister and Morgaine’s aunt, may be a harsh woman with designs on power his above her abilities, but give her credit, she knows what she wants and how to get it. Even if how she gets it is through sex but she’s not ashamed so why should we be.

Then there’s Gwenhwyfar, King Arthur’s wife. What a twit. Really. I couldn’t stand her and I have a very high tolerance for liking this character in most Arthurian re-tellings. Here, she’s a conniving woman who only wants a son and will go to any length to guilt and goad her husband into being a better Christian because she believes that a stronger more fanatical faith will bring that wish to fruition. She’s whiney, annoying, and honestly, not that smart. She doesn’t see the big picture and is so worried about supposed pagans and their evil that she can’t even see what she’s doing is tearing the country apart as her husband is trying to salvage it. As a side note: if you want to read a strong Gwenhwyfar, read Helen Hollick’s Arthurian re-telling — The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner, and Shadow of the King. The Gwenhwyfar in that story is strong and unafraid of her fate and faces everything head on.

The men. Arthur is Arthur but he’s not so much the strong Arthur that I like so much. He’s more of a non-factor since this story is about the women but he’s the high king and has to be there. Lancelet. My god, just bang the girl and get it over with. I say this now because I couldn’t take it anymore. Unrequited love doesn’t sit well for me and there’s entirely too much of it here. Yet, it’s a big part of this story and it wouldn’t be this story without this little triangle. And when I say triangle I mean that in the threesome sort of way. Imagine at will.

Mordred, Morgaine and Arthur’s son, is a fascinating character. He was raised by Morgause and is full of the need for power but the difference is that he knows how to find it and yield it. Raised in Avalon, he can raise the power of the goddess and knows his way around courtly diversions and behavior. He is able to manipulate Arthur and gain his way into Gwenhwyfar’s heart all the while planning a way to gain the throne for himself. A character that at some moments is a playful child, a homesick man, a man in love, and a man loyal to his brothers, Mordred is a slight chameleon. You want to like him but in ways you just can’t. Morgaine seems to feel the same way about him and she’s his mother. What does that tell you?

Merlin is Merlin and very grandfatherly but doesn’t play the part I want him to in this book but, again, it’s not about him. Kevin the Bard, oh how I love his interactions with the twit. Kevin was disfigured in a childhood accident and Gwenhwyfar believes he’s the devil himself and actually blames him for a miscarriage at one point. He gets what he deserves in the end for his betrayals though but I did find him an interesting character in his thought process on the changing role of religion among the people and how old ways needed to change. Morgaine doesn’t agree with him and this becomes the cause of tension for these two and seeing them battle it out is interesting.

Morgaine. I need to talk more about her. Honestly, I adore her in this book and she’s not always a character I like. In some stories, she’s a horrific person willing to murder and seize power at every opportunity, in The Mists of Avalon, she mostly runs from her fate. She doesn’t actively seek power and even when she can use it to get what she wants, she doesn’t. Yes, some of her actions are harsh but she does have a degree of humanity about her that I like.

I still love the setting, the storytelling, and the tension. It’s a long book and nothing is rushed which also at times makes you wish something would happen. You have to be patient and wait for the fates to work it out though. Although, as I got down to the end, parts did feel slightly rushed but I think that was because I had become used to this world moving slowly and when events happen all in succession, it felt out of place but it also felt that it needed to come to an end so I was fine with it.

This isn’t my first time with this book and it won’t be my last. I discovered much about this book on this re-read and I’m sure I’ll discover more in successive reads. While there are many Arthurian legend books I adore, this is certainly high on the list. It’s a wonderful story full of amazing women. Even if you don’t care for Arthurian legend, read it for the women. They stand above.

Thoughts – The Mists of Avalon

By Marion Zimmer Bradley

DelRey

ISBN: 0345350499

4.5 stars

Review – Twilight of Avalon: A Novel of Trystan and Isolde

Twilight of Avalon: A Novel of Trystan and Isolde

By Anna Elliot

Touchstone

ISBN: 9781439164556

3 stars

Trystan and Isolde is a part of Arthurian legend I’m not very familiar with. I’ve read a few stories over the years, short stories mostly or the characters have shown up as minor characters in other books, but I never really got into the longer stories. I’m not sure why that is but I thought I’d give these characters another chance.

Isolde is attempting to grieve for her husband Constantine, Arthur’s heir, after his untimely death but she finds it hard going. The realm is again in turmoil and lords and petty kings are once more vying for the throne. With little power and very few choices open to her, she makes the decision to marry a cruel man who takes the throne. With the knowledge that her new husband maybe selling out the realm to the invading Saxons, she takes steps to find the information to bring him down and also save herself from being convicted as a witch.

In most stories, Isolde is a healer, and she’s that once more in this book and it’s her need to help people, especially ones who are bleeding, that brings her in contact with Trystan. This is when the story diverged from one I’m familiar with but I was all right with that for the most part. When you read many Arthurian based stories, a change of pace is always welcome. But even with that change, I had trouble getting into the story. Isolde and Trystan are very hard, battered people with stories to tell but neither seems inclined to share their stories or heal mentally. I wasn’t looking for a warm and fuzzy cry fest but it also felt as though they were hiding stuff from each other which they sort of are but I won’t get into that.

This is the first book in a trilogy which is fine but the story ends so abruptly that I thought I had missed pages. Ending in the beginning of action makes sense when there’s to be a sequel but it felt wrong — too abrupt, too soon.

Honestly though, I still might take a look at the sequels because I do want to know how this version of the tale ends. The dialogue was somewhat stumbling for me though. A lot of …she paused. Then: “… I’m hoping this writing tick passes with the following books. Overall, it was an interesting take on the tale that many know so well.

Review – Child of the Northern Spring

Child of the Northern Spring

By Persia Woolley

Source Books

ISBN: 9781402245244

4 stars

Guinevere, a young woman barely 18 years-old and while a strong and intelligent person, she’s out of her element when it comes to practices of the court.  The chosen bride of the newly minted King Arthur, she’s leaving her father and the only home she’s ever known to meet him and prepare to be his wife and queen.  Their first meeting a few years prior to the marriage arrangement left her interested but not fully convinced she was the right woman for him.  Without a better marriage offer and wanting to protect her homeland, she undertakes the journey to become his partner.

Arthur and Guinevere’s match is a good one — they’re both strong people and have an affinity for each other.  When the Saxons, always a threat to the country at this time, decide to attack, Arthur moves his armies to meet them and they both find out what it means to be king and queen and husband and wife.

I prefer Arthurian legend stories with a touch of historical reality rather than magic.  There is some magic in Child of the Northern Spring but it’s more in the form of religion and gods which is fine.  Merlin does make an appearance and there are moments when he calls down the gods and their wrath and the same can be said for Arthur’s sister, Morgan.  I’m all right with magic in that capacity though.  For as much as I adore fantasy, I don’t always like it mixed with my Arthur and Guinevere.  Go figure.

This book does move slowly and is told in more flashbacks than I felt necessary but it provides a nice background and history for Guinevere and who she is as a person.  I like that she isn’t a meek woman in this story and even though she’s unsure of herself, some of that is due to her age and that she’s never lived at court or even ran her father’s household after the death of her mother.  It’s a lack of confidence and she begins to gain more at the end of the book.

Child of the Northern Spring is the first in the Guinevere trilogy and with my ability to never walk away from a series, especially one that involves Arthur and Guinevere, I see myself reading more.  If you enjoy Arthurian legend, this one is worth a look.

Review – Dawn of Avalon (short story)

Dawn of Avalon: Morgan and Merlin — The Beginning

By Anna Elliott

Smashwords Edition downloaded to Nook

3.75 stars

Oh, my soft spot for all things King Arthur.  After having finished a rather long book, I thought it would be a good idea to read a few short stories to get myself back into a reading groove.  And of course, I also thought I’d return to a love of mine — Arthurian stories.

Morgan Pendragon has disguised herself as a boy and offered her services to King Vortigern.  She ends up working as a healer in his dungeon to get close to a certain prisoner; a man who can tell no one who he is, where he comes from, or which side he’s fighting for.  When Vortigern gets nothing from him after days of torture, he decides to sacrifice the man to appease the gods in an attempt to hold off Uther Pendragon’s impending invasion.  Morgan, not willing to watch him die, helps him to escape and finds out he’s more than just a soldier.  He’s a man with magical abilities — a man named Merlin.

Morgan and Merlin are some of my favorite characters from Arthurian stories.  Morgan was slightly different; softer, less hostile, less magical, and for me not nearly as interesting.  It’s not a bad thing, I just have a general standard in my head for the character of Morgan and she’s a meaner and harder figure but this Morgan did fit this particular story better.  As for Merlin, I usually think of him as very self-assured and able to make decisions supernaturally so his being helpless again took me out of my comfort zone.  He needed Morgan to survive both physically and emotionally, but again, it fit with the story being told.  All in all it, was good and I might look up a few more things by Anna Elliott particularly Twilight of AvalonDawn of Avalon is the short story that serves as the prequel to that book.

Sunday Salon – Arthurian Legend(s)

Morning everyone.

I’ve said it here before and will say it again — I love all things King Arthur.  Honestly, I have no idea why, I just do.  When I heard Showtime would be airing a series called Camelot, I was on it.  Friday night I talked my husband into watching it with me and I don’t know what to think of it.  The actress in the role of Morgan is great and King Lott is also fantastic but from what we learned from googling the internets while watching, Lott will only be in two episodes so bad news for me.  Merlin, well, they went with the political advisor version which I’m good with and I actually think it works better than the magic-man Merlin here anyway.  There is a fantasy element to the show which could have easily been ignored (Unless it’s all fantasy and you go in with full fantasy blazing, I think you should forget it.  All in or all out is the way I feel.) but they seem to be adding it grain by grain.  I don’t know if it adds anything to the story yet; hard to tell with only one episode.

Notice how I haven’t mentioned Arthur yet?  I don’t know if I like him.  Reading a lot of Arthurian legend based books, I have an ideal Arthur vision and to put it kindly, it’s not him.  Maybe things will change but for now I don’t know.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is this — when you read a book and have a set ideal of the characters, are you willing to edit them to fit a TV/movie version?

I’ll admit I don’t see a lot of movies but when I do, I can usually separate out the differences and move on.  A book is a book and a movie is a movie.  Different mediums, different stories.  For instance, The Lord of the Rings — I loved the books and loved the movies.  I was fine with it all even if it wasn’t what I had previously envisioned in all my readings of the books.

Somehow, I found myself having trouble with Camelot.  I think the reason is that having read so many Arthurian legend books and their numerous takes on the characters, their faults, etc., I have a cobbled together Arthur but one I’ve come to like very much.  Seeing the show and how its writers put together the different people and places, made me a tad annoyed that it wasn’t my version.  But then again, maybe it was something my husband said:

“Ya know, some of the writing and acting here are pretty bad.”

I had trouble not agreeing with that statement.  So maybe that’s it.

A few links to share this week…

A Game of Thrones.  Oh, how I loved this book.  George R.R. Martin, you are a genius.  Tonight at 9PM there will be a 15 minute preview of the series which is set to start April 17th on HBO.  After the above discussion, I still have high hopes for this series but we’ll see what happens. If you haven’t read the book yet and want to; join the book club.

50 books you don’t need to read before you die.

Cooking bibles?  Mine – Julia Child’s Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom.  By the way, I haven’t completely forgotten about the post where I mentioned I would take a look in some of my cookbooks and share a recipe.  I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Want to know what it was like to edit Harry Potter?  Here ya go then.  Oh, and if you want to see the latest movie poster, here.  Funny how they don’t even mention the name of the movie.  Oh, the Harry Potter marketing machine.

Yeah!  A DC landmark bookstore will be here for me still.

The Hobbit is finally in production which means we might see Ian McKellan’s Gandalf looking the same age and not older than he did in The Lord of the Rings.

Happy Sunday.

Review – The Last Pendragon: A Tale of Dark Age Wales

The Last Pendragon: A Tale of Dark Age Wales

By Sarah Woodbury

Smashwords Edition

EAN: 2940011110184

3.5 stars

Rhiann’s father, the King of Gwynedd, is a cruel man and sees her only virtue as what she can bring him through marriage.  She spends her dreary days turning down any available man her father brings to his hall.  As a bastard child, her choices are running low and she may find herself married to the next man her father brings to his hall.  When Cadwaladr (Cade), the last of the Pendragons, is drug bleeding into her father’s hall, she’s stunned by his appearance.  When she is sent to help him with his wounds and he refuses her help, Rhiann finds she wants to help him even more.  With the help of her stepmother, who also happens to be Cadwaladr’s mother, she escapes with him.  She soon finds out that he’s not exactly who she thought he was.  He’s brave, prepared to fight, a man born to lead men, and he’s also not quite human.

Many re-tellings of Arthurian legend tend to include some form of the supernatural.  It’s sometimes magic used by Merlin, some form of a seer, the sword which in some stories is pulled from an enchanted stone or is given to Arthur by a goddess.  In others, Morgaine or Morgan le Fay, Arthur’s sister, is the one in possession of the magical abilities and there is usually a goddess that has chosen Arthur, or his decedents, for the task of reuniting the people of his land, and more often than not, Saxons are involved.  Woodbury includes most of these elements in some fashion, and while I tend to prefer the non-magical Arthurian legend stories, this one has an interesting twist that made it appealing.  Cade is a form of a daemon which makes him invincible to a degree baring his head doesn’t become dislodged from his body or his heart pierced.  Cade also feels drained by the sunlight and while clearly not a vampire, felt a little too close for me in terms of symptoms/afflictions.

I like character driven stories and once I become attached, even if I was a little leery, I stayed till the end.  One thing that did bother me, and bothered me a lot, was this — the names were all very similar.  I appreciate that the author was staying true to the story by using Welsh names, even if I can’t pronounce them, but they were all too similar and it took me a long time to get them straight.  Even Cade’s horse’s name (Cadfan) was too close to his own name for me.

I was in a slight reading slump when I picked this one up.  I was thoroughly relying on my love of Arthurian legend to pull me through.  It did.  It won’t rank high on my list of best of Arthurian legend stories but it was an interesting re-telling.