The Crystal Cave

By Mary Stewart,

Book cover of The Crystal Cave

Book description

The spellbinding story of Merlin's rise to power.

Vivid, enthralling, absolutely first-class - Daily Mail

So begins the story of Merlin, born the illegitimate son of a Welsh princess in fifth century Britain, a world ravaged by war. Small and neglected, with his mother unwilling to reveal his father's identity,…


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Why read it?

7 authors picked The Crystal Cave as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This is the story that took me on my first voyage into the magical waters of Historical Romance, and from there on to the enchanted isles. Most readers think of Mary Stewart as a writer of Romantic Suspense, but her Merlin Trilogy is, for me, the definitive recounting of the Arthurian legend. This book showed me I can not only read Historical Romance, I can live, breathe, smell, and taste it. I can be Merlin. And I can live in Arthurian times, at least for a little while.

I recommend this book especially if you love the more ancient tellings of Arthurian legend. Being an Arthurian nerd myself, I really appreciate the amount of research this author did before jumping in to tell her version of the story. These books focus more heavily on the character of Merlin—capturing his mystique beautifully. Mary Stewart helps the reader encounter the greater magic, that goes beyond a wizard in a blue pointy hat, and a sword in the stone. This reimagining of the Arthurian world kept me turning the page, and I was not able to put it down. 

Perhaps the first book that spurred my love of magic and witches, The Crystal Cave began a saga like few others. Meet young Merlin, a child sent away for elusive reasons. Yet he trains under a master and comes into his own power and purpose. Through Mary’s prose this world and story came to life for me, and I’ve followed Merlin and the characters surrounding Arthurian legends ever since.

From Tricia's list on magical realms just beyond our reach.

Every Arthurian, professional or not, needs to read Mary Stewart's classic and engaging Merlin trilogy, of which The Crystal Cave is the first book, that offers a compelling take on the Merlin/Arthur saga. This is the work that, more than any other, transformed me from a child enthusiast to a full-fledged Arthurian scholar.  Magic merges with mysticism in a totally believable and compelling story. It offers a logical and historical explanation of how Christianity might have slowly replaced paganism in Arthurian England, after which the metaphorical “dragon” himself, Merlin, just like another famous dragon, “sadly slipped into his cave.”  

I have always been intrigued by Merlin and Arthur Pendragon, and I’ve read everything Mary Stewart has written about them. There is something about castles and kings and magic that is irresistible. It’s all too fantastic to be real—or is it? These are the elusive elements that initially prompted me to attempt writing historical fantasy. This first book of the Arthurian Saga focuses on Merlin’s childhood and emerging gift of sight and places the reader firmly in 5th century Britain. Stewart brings the period to life through her vivid recounting of political treachery, secrets, and inevitable war. The novel…

This book, and the ones that followed, of Stewart’s interpretation of “Le Morte d’Arthur,” are pure magic for the young and old alike. Her depiction of a young Merlin’s rise to power is described in such a way that that you would swear you were caught up in a trance right alongside him. The relationship he has with ‘the god’ is both touching and profound, portraying a humble man unfolding the mysteries of the universe.

From C.W.'s list on historical fiction of the UK.

Here are two facts that don’t seem to go together. 1: I am a grown man. 2: I am recommending a novel about Merlin. On an outer level, this is a story about the making of an iconic character; how Merlin became Merlin. But on an inner level, it’s about a boy discovering his inner connectedness to the world around him, with its many subtle messages. There was a time when humans looked for and found signs in nature. That may be superstition and delusion sometimes, but I think life is constantly communicating with us. This is a story about…

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