Wednesday, 31 October 2001

Mary Stewart: The Hollow Hills (1973)

Edition: Coronet, 1974
Review number: 983

The second of Stewart's Arthurian novels continues the story from the point of view of Merlin, from Arthur's conception until his ascension of the British throne. Of all her novels, it has least of the sense of adventure that is important in a thriller, and it suffers massively as a result. It amounts to a tedious sequel to the enjoyable Crystal Cave.

The Hollow Hills has most of the virtues of Stewart's other novels - well drawn characters and background, an easy style - but it fatally lacks the suspense and tension. The main device in the plot is Merlin's search for the sword Caliburn (Excalibur), to be used to proce Arthur's claim to the throne, and this is made too simple through supernatural means to bear the weight of a whole novel. T.H. White's Sword in the Stone proves a far more interesting and exciting retelling of the childhood of Arthur.

The exception is the melodramatic scene near the end where Merlin confronts Morgause after she has seduced Arthur, before he discovers his identity and that she is his half-sister. It is a set piece which doesn't quite come off, but its tone is startlingly unlike that of the rest of the novel.

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