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?

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

Through the pages of this book, unfolds a tangible reality of the birth and boyhood of Merlin the magician, leading up to his central position in the legend of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

As I read, I saw how Stewart wove a story using some accepted historical facts and myths, to create something new and solid. I saw the way Stewart used mystical moments and magical spells to sit above common logic.

Her ability to write in this imaginative way makes her characters more believable. And I do believe it. I have feelings of satisfaction at…

Although in my 30s when I read this first installment in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian series, I couldn’t help but identify with this tale of a young outsider with uncertain parentage who is shunned for his visionary abilities…a young outsider named Merlin.

As I followed his coming-of-age story, I couldn’t help but see myself in Merlin’s journey. At the time, I was barely a year into a life-changing odyssey, feeling pushed into embracing my own uncertain parentage and prodded into acknowledging inner realms that I would once have dismissed as New Age claptrap.

Like Merlin, I was in the midst of…

One of the first ‘grown-up’ magical books I ever read, it’s the gateway drug into the Arthurian Saga series.

Merlin is a young illegitimate boy struggling to find his place in the post-Roman world.

He has a keen intelligence that is often overlooked and a love of the natural world. It’s these two traits, as well as a knack for being in the right place at the right time, that are responsible for so much of his success later in life, as well as a low-key magic. 

A book to savor, with beautiful language and a setting you don’t so…

From Liz's list on making you believe in magic.

This is the book that first made me interested in the figure of Merlin.

I read it as a teenager, after family holidays had made me fascinated by Tintagel, Glastonbury, and Arthurian legends.

Mary Stewart bases her story of Merlin closely on the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth, the twelfth-century conman who convinced the world that King Arthur and his court were real.

But Geoffrey drops Merlin from the story once Arthur has been conceived, while Mary Stewart succeeds in making him a convincingly real yet magical, powerful yet doomed, character with a story so gripping that you are willing…

From Anne's list on Merlin and magic.

Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy is one of my favourites. With consummate skill, the author has brought together all of the many legends about Merlin and woven them into a completely believable tapestry. In The Crystal Cave she concentrates on Merlin's early life in 5th-century Britain just after the Romans abandoned the country. It's written in first person and I was utterly convinced that the story she tells could be true. The author takes you there, to a crumbling Roman villa, to the world of the Druids, to the conception of King Arthur at Tintagel. I loved it.

This first book in Mary Stewart’s Merlin series is the book that originally piqued my interest in a post-Roman Britain—but one in which the memory of Rome is not lost, and Roman villas and roads are still part of the countryside. When I started to create my not-quite-British world that is one of the starting points for my series, the feeling of this Britanno-Roman transition period was what I wanted to capture. 

Merlin’s story – with a difference. This one could really have happened: OK, disregarding the magic, but the events and the people are truly believable. Set in the 5th/6th century, the boy Merlin learns how to use his special abilities and becomes King Arthur’s friend and advisor, and so the legend is created. The first of Ms. Stewart’s Arthurian saga, I fell in love with these books when I first read them back in the 1970s. They were to set me on my own writing career, for I’d never liked the historically inaccurate and implausible traditional Arthurian…

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.

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