Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Reviews of Classic Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels by Wendy Van Camp

Book Review: The Island Stallion Races

Book Name: The Island Stallion Races
Author: Walter Farley
First Published: 1955

Walter Farley was born in 1915 in Syracuse, New York. His uncle was a professional horseman and took the young Walter under his wing. He taught him about horses and training methods that were used on the world racing tracks. Walter spent a great deal of time with his uncle at the Belmont Race Track and stables. Many of his future novels would be set in this racing complex.

Farley was a high school student at Erasmus Hall High in Brooklyn when he began to write the first Black Stallion novel. As he continued his education at Columbia College, he completed and published The Black Stallion in 1941 when he was still an undergrad at the university. The book was a success and Farley was ready to write sequels, but World War II intervened. He was forced to set his stories about Alec Ramsey and the Black aside and instead worked for the US Army magazine Yank for the next five years. It would not be until the end of the war that Farley could return to his first love, writing about horses and the racing world. Altogether, Farley would write 21 novels about his beloved horses and would become renown as a young adult author.

Farley and his wife Rosemary had four children whom they raised on a farm in Pennsylvania and later in a beach house in Florida. The love for horses was passed on to his children and in one, his son Steve, the love of writing.

In 1989, Walter Farley was honored by the Library in Venice, Florida by the creation of the Walter Farley Literary Landmark in it’s children’s wing. Soon after, Farley died of cancer in 1989. He would not see the completion of the Young Black Stallion book or the start of production of the television series The Adventures of the Black Stallion.

There was also a famous Francis Ford Coppola film The Black Stallion, which features some of the most beautiful cinematography featuring an Arabian steed, a beach and a boy taming the heart of a horse. It stars Mickey Rooney as the old trainer and is well worth looking into as a family-friendly film everyone can love.

“His mane was like a crest, mounting, then falling low. His neck was long and slender, and arched to the small, savagely beautiful head. The head was that of the wildest of all wild creatures- a stallion born wild- and it was beautiful, savage, splendid. A stallion with a wonderful physical perfection that matched his savage, ruthless spirit.”
― Walter Farley

The Island Stallion Races is an unusual offering by Walter Farley, his only science fiction novel. The story returns us to Azul Island, a tropical paradise with a hidden secret: Inside the ancient walls of this extinct volcano is tucked away the last outpost of the Spanish conquistadors where the descendants of their powerful steeds still roam. Young Steve Duncan and his scholarly friend Pitch have discovered the secret of Azul Island and Steve has befriended the mighty stallion Flame who guards his herd and keeps them safe.

Pitch is called away while the pair study the ruins left by the Spaniards on the island and Steve is delighted to have more time with his favorite horse, a fire red steed that he longs to race so he can show off Flame’s speed and grace to the world. Alas, it is not to be. Flame has no pedigree or papers. He is barred from racetracks due to this defect.

Enter a pair of supposed “Eastern American Business Men” who are anything but. Jay and Flick arrive on the island via unconventional means: An intergalactic spaceship. They have unusual talents such as transforming into birds when they wish. Their mission is to watch over the invisible spaceship that has been parked on the remote island while their colleagues Victor and Julian are off studying human culture.

Jay would like to do more than simply study humanity. He has watched the beautiful horses of Azul Island for a long time and is interested in experiencing horse racing for himself. He concocts a plan to take Flame and Steve to Havana, Cuba via their invisible spaceship and enter the Island Stallion in the Grand International horse race.

Does the Island stallion have what it takes to beat the best race horses on the planet? Will Steve overcome his fear of the aliens in order to pursue his dream of being Flame’s rider in a major racing event? Will Jay the intergalactic alien get away with his reckless behavior or will his comrades leave him behind when it is time for them to depart Earth?

You’ll have to read the adventure to find out.

The Island Stallion Races Book CoverOne of my favorite series, when I was a pre-teen were the Black Stallion novels by Walter Farley. I had quite the crush on young Alec Ramsey and identified with his love of horses since I had a similar love for my own horse at that age. The Black Stallion novels are quite famous.  The series is being continued by Farley’s son Steve Farley to this day.

There is a second series of books written by Farley featuring another mighty horse. There are only five novels in the series about Flame the Island Stallion and his rider, Steve Duncan.  Each one a well written YA adventure featuring a beautiful steed and the boy who loves him.

Although the Island Stallion books were written at the same time as the Black Stallion books, I put off reading them. I loved the Black and Alec so much, I felt a sense of youthful disloyalty to read about this other horse. Much to my surprise, when I finally gave in to my curiosity, I found that I enjoyed these books as much, if not more than the original Black Stallion books.

Azul Island, a walled paradise tucked away in the tropics and home to the beautiful equine descendants of the conquistador warhorses tickled my fancy with delight. Then, there was a second easter egg. The Island Stallion Races featured aliens from another world and their nefarious mission: horseracing! To my disappointment, the author never continued his science fiction ideas and this single offering is his only sci-fi novel. The storyline was enough to make this particular Walter Farley book one of my favorites. (Sorry Alec)

I would love to see the Island Stallion stories made into movies as the Black Stallion books were. The stories are every bit as compelling as the more famous works by Walter Farley. If you are looking for science fiction in an unexpected place, give The Island Stallion Races a try. It is a family-friendly book that will make you and your horse-loving child smile.

The Island Stallion Series:

The Island Stallion (1948)
The Island Stallion’s Fury (1951)
The Island Stallion Races (1955)
The Black Stallion and Flame (1960)
The Black Stallion Challenged (1964)

Book Review: The Mirror of Her Dreams

Book Name: The Mirror of Her Dreams
Author: Stephan R. Donaldson
First Published: 1986

Stephen R. Donaldson was born in 1947. He spent much of his youth in India due to his father’s work as an orthopedic surgeon in that country. He attended the Kodaikanal International School. Later, he would gain a bachelor’s degree from The College of Wooster and a Master’s from Kent State. He currently lives in New Mexico.

Donaldson is best known for his long-running series The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, a fantasy about a man who suffered from leprosy and was called to an alternate world to save it. His stories are characterized by a sense of moral bleakness, complex psychological reasoning, and a fondness for arcane vocabulary. Mordant’s Need is a two-part series, a long novel that was broken up into two parts, and features a unique magic system and court intrigue that rivals the “Game of Thrones”.

The author’s stories show a wide range of influences, such as the operas of Richard Wagner, Mervyn Peake, C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien. The largest inspiration for The Mirror of Her Dreams must come from Roger Zelazny’s Amber novels, of which the author is known to be a big fan.

“The story of Terisa and Geraden began very much like a fable. She was a princess in a high tower. He was a hero come to rescue her. She was the only daughter of wealth and power. He was the seventh son of the lord of the seventh Care. She was beautiful from the auburn hair that crowned her head to the tips of her white toes. He was handsome and courageous. She was held prisoner by enchantment. He was a fearless breaker of enchantments. As in all the fables, they were made for each other.”
― Stephen R. Donaldson, The Mirror of Her Dreams

The Mirror of Her Dreams is the story of Terisa Morgan, a young woman that feels as if she is fading from existence and has doubts that she is real. To help her establish her own reality, she lines all the walls of her apartment with mirrors. By seeing her reflection, she assures herself that she is alive.

One night, Terisa has a dream where she is hounded by men on horseback. A young man steps in to protect her. The following night, she has a bout of fear that she is fading from the world. To counter this, she sits in front of one of her many mirrors. That is when the man from her dream crashes through the mirror before her. He is Geraden, a bumbling Apt who has failed to become an “Imager” after ten years of study. He comes from a mystical world called Mordant and is in search of a champion to save it. Geraden is convinced that Terisa is that champion, even though the girl is not quite what he was expecting to find. He pleads with her to come with him through the mirror to Mordant and Castle Orison.

Starting as an ordinary shy girl from New York City, Terisa transforms into the center of palace intrigue. The court of Mordant is divided about her. Some believe she is a powerful “Imager” because she was discovered in a room of mirrors and could see her own reflection without going mad. They view Terisa as a potential ally or threat. In Mordant, magic comes from mirrors. The mirrors show only one place and time and no one sees their reflection in them. The powerful “Imagers” use the magical mirrors to see into the future or parallel worlds. The other half of the court is convinced that she is just another mistake of Geraden’s and do not take her seriously.

Terisa must deal with the puppy-dog earnest Geraden, a senile King and his strong-willed daughters, a mad Adept, Geraden’s well-meaning brothers, and the factions of Imager masters that belong to guild known as the “Congery”. The threads of the story twists and turns and little is what it appears in Orison. There is a plot to depose the King, a rogue Imager sends magical creatures to cause destruction in the kingdom. It all is overwhelming to a doubting Terisa who can hardly make a decision of her own due to her debilitating passivity. Can she overcome her inner fears and become the champion of Mordant as her friend Geraden remains firmly convinced?
The Mirror of Her Dreams Book CoverI first read The Mirror of Her Dreams when it first came out in 1986. I blush to say it, but the striking cover of the girl looking into a mirror and a man gazing back at her from the glass caught my eye and intrigued me. I had read Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant books and was pleased to see that he had branched out into a new world.

What struck me first about the book was the unusual heroine, a girl that had been abused by her parents that she was passive enough that it could endanger her, even in our own world much less that of a fantasy realm. I found myself having sympathy for Terisa Morgan, although there were times when I wanted to shake her and tell her to wake up. Women today may have trouble with the passivity of this heroine for she is not a strong female and does tend to lean on the men around her.

The first half of the book does drag due to the long information dumps about Mordant’s past and world building description. I feel that the author might have found another way to convey this information. However, the court intrigues, the constant danger that Trisa and Geraden find themselves in did keep the story interesting enough for me to finish the book and then go on to its sequel. I also enjoyed the mild romance between these two characters.

Where the book shines is in the details of the Imagers and their guild the Congery. The magic system is rather unique, but has a strong basis in previous fantasies, with hints leaning toward Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or Zelaney’s Prince Corwin of Amber.

There is much to like about this fantasy novel and its sequel, A Man Rides Through. While the first novel is a bit slow, the second is action packed and a very satisfying read. Be warned, The Mirror of Her Dreams ends in a cliffhanger, which at the time was hard on me since the second book did not come out for a year, but now both books are available. You will not have to wait a year to learn the conclusion of this tale as I did! Mordant’s Need has stayed with me down through the years and I view it as a solid classic of the fantasy genre.

Mordant’s Need

The Mirror of Her Dreams (1986)
A Man Rides Through (1987)

Book Review: The Mists of Avalon

Book Name: The Mists of Avalon
Author: Marion Zimmer Bradley
First Published: 1982
Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (1984)

Marion Eleanor Zimmer Bradley was an American author of fantasy novels such as The Mists of Avalon and the Darkover series, often writing with a feminist outlook and even, under a pen name, gay and lesbian titles. She was born on a farm in Albany, New York, during the Great Depression, to a father who was a carpenter and farmer and a mother who was a historian. Bradley first attended New York State College for Teachers from which she dropped out after two years. She returned to college in the mid-sixties, where she graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in Texas with a Bachelor of Arts. Bradley moved to California soon after and went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of California, Berkely. She trained not only as a psychologist but also as a parapsychologist. In the end, she became a drop-out once more from not one, but three departments of education, “owing to deep disillusion”. Bradley also trained as a singer, and at one time, in her younger days, worked as a target for a knife thrower in a carnival.

Married twice, both of Bradley’s unions ended in divorce. Her first marriage to Robert Bradley in 1949 lasted fourteen years and they had one son together. Her second marriage to author Walter Breen in 1964 resulted in a son and a daughter, but ended badly in 1990. She had been separated from him for many years before the divorce was finalized.

During the 1950s, as a young wife with a small son, she became involved in the phenomenon known as science fiction fandom, writing for a variety of fanzines for nothing, but in time moved up to sell to professional science fiction digest magazines. It was here that she gained her writing chops and moved on to create novels of her own, becoming a professional full-time writer and editor by the early 1960s. Her main novel series featured a sword and sorcery themed world known as Darkover, but she also wrote short stories, articles and books in other subjects.

As an author, her most popular novel was The Mists of Avalon which was later made into a major motion picture starring Angelica Houston. The book is a retelling of the Camelot legend from the viewpoint of the female characters.

Bradley died in September of 1999. The year after her death, Marion Zimmer Bradley was posthumously awarded the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

“There is no such thing as a true tale. Truth has many faces and the truth is like to the old road to Avalon; it depends on your own will, and your own thoughts, whither the road will take you.”
― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon is a retelling of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of the female characters. The protagonist is Morgaine, a priestess of Avalon who is King Arthur’s half-sister. When Morgaine is eleven years old and her brother is six, there is an attempt on the young prince’s life. Viviane, known as the Lady of Avalon, and aunt to both Morgaine and Arthur, advises King Uther to have the boy fostered away from court for his safety. She also takes Morgaine to initiate her as a priestess of the Mother and to groom her as the next Lady of Avalon.

Time passes and both Morgaine and Arthur become adults. Arthur claims the throne of Britain and defends his kingdom against the invading Saxons. The Lady of Avalon gives him the sword Excalibur that is enchanted to help him gain victory over his enemies. In return, Viviane asks for Arthur to honor the old religion, to which he agrees.

Morgaine becomes a priestess with the full power the title bestows, being able to open the gate between our world and the fey world of Avalon. Morgaine conceives a child during a fertility rite and learns to her horror that the masked father was actually her own half-brother and that the escapade was arranged by her Aunt Viviane. In Viviane’s Pagan mind, the child’s royal blood on both sides is acceptable, but Morgaine was raised by Christians and she is appalled by the act. Morgaine leaves Viviane and Avalon, wishing to have no more to do with the ancient druid religion. She fosters her son Gwydion with her Aunt Morgause and King Lot, then joins her brother’s court.

Being a former priestess, Morgaine has a reputation for “magic”. She has visions and knowledge of herbal medicines. The childless Gwenhwyfar, Queen to King Arthur, asks Morgaine to create a fertility charm in order to help her conceive the son and heir she longs for. The charm works, but not in the manner that Gwenhwyfar expects. Arthur himself invites his best friend Lancelot to join he and Gwenhwyfar in bed as a threesome. This way, a child might be made “in the king’s bed” and thus still any talk that the child would be illegitimate. The Queen is in love with Lancelot and welcomes the chance to have him, but when the union does not result in a child, she grows angry. Gwenhwyfar rejects pagan magic and turns to Christianity to give her the desired heir. From that point forward, she is an advocate to Arthur to bring Christian values to Britain and to forsake the druidic past.

Eventually, Arthur learns that he has a son and he longs to bring the boy to Camelot. However, Gwenhwyfar will not hear of it. To try and create peace for the knight, Morgaine tricks Lancelet into marrying Gwenhwyfar’s cousin Elaine, which angers Gwenhwyfar further. In retaliation, the Queen schemes to marry Morgaine off to a Welsh King to remove her from court. Morgaine believes she will be marrying the king’s youngest son, Accolon who is a Druid priest and warrior, and agrees to the marriage, Later, she finds herself married to King Uriens himself, a man that is old enough to be her grandfather. Trouble ensues and eventually, Morgaine leaves King Uriens court and Wales forever.

Gwydion goes to the Saxon court when he is grown to learn of warfare away from his father’s notice. The Saxons name him Mordred, which means “evil counsel”. When he joins Arthur’s court in Camelot, he introduces himself as Morgaine’s son and Morgause’s foster-son with no mention of who his father might be. Due to his close resemblance to Lancelot, many in the court believe that he is the knight’s son and do not suspect that he is King Arthur’s heir. Gwydion wishes to earn his place without preferential treatment and challenges Lancelot to single combat during a tourney to prove his mettle. Lancelot and the King are impressed by his skills and Lancelot makes Gwydion a knight of the round table, naming him Mordred.

Mordred is not content with being a knight and eventually, he causes King Arthur more problems. You will need to read the book to learn the final outcome of this engrossing tale.

The Mists of Avalon Book CoverI first read The Mists of Avalon when I was in my twenties and it has stuck with me down through the years. I enjoyed the movie that followed and own a copy in my collection. Bradley’s prose is not the strongest, but her descriptions and characters are compelling. In Morgaine, Bradley has created a sympathetic character who makes mistakes, hopes and dreams of a better life and ultimately is swept away by the events of her times.

The central theme is the fall of the old Druid religion and how it was replaced by Christianity. Bradley is not complimentary toward Christians in her book, and normally I would find this to be a detraction, but the unfolding description of Pagan religion is fascinating in its depth. The isle of Avalon felt much like a character with its symbolic dissolving into the mists as the old religion faded from the hearts of the English people.

The book is extremely feminist in theme from the matriarchal Pagan society led by the Lady of Avalon, to the relationship struggles of the various Queens and their control over their Kings. I liked experiencing Arthurian legend via the eyes of its women, it was a unique viewpoint and not something that had been done before.

While I personally enjoyed The Mists of Avalon, I do not know if I would recommend this book to everyone. To men that prefer action and deeds, I fear that they would find this book to be slow and as full of relationships as a romance novel. To Christians who are strong in their faith, I would also be hesitant. The anti-Christian sediments of the author run strong. For people that enjoy a feminist message with fantasy elements, for there is true magic in the book although it is subtle, this novel will have a high appeal.

Book Review: The Martian

Book Name: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
First Published: 2011

Author Andy Weir was born and raised in Southern California. His father is an accelerator physicist and his mother an electrical engineer. Weir grew up reading classic science fiction. His favorite authors were Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. When he was 15, was hired by Sandia National Laboratories as a computer programmer. While Weir has studied computer science at UC San Diego in California, he has not obtained a graduate degree. Instead, he has been working as a programmer for software companies such as AOL, Palm, MobileIron, and Blizzard.

Weir has been writing stories since his mid-twenties. His first short story, The Egg has been adapted into YouTube videos. His first novel The Martian began as a free series on his website in 2009. As the story progressed, his readers gave him pointers and helped him with the scientific aspects of the story. The Martian is based on real life science and the Ares missions are ones that have been proposed to NASA. As time went on, many of his readers asked if he would make the story available on kindle. He then offered it on Amazon for 99 cents. The novel ended up being on the Kindle bestseller list. Later, Weir was approached by a literary agent and sold the rights of the book to Crown Publishing Group. The print version debuted #12 on the New York Times Bestseller list. It has gone on to be made into a major motion picture by the same name and starring Matt Damon. The twentieth-first Century Fox film was released in October of 2015.

Weir is reportedly at work on a second novel. He currently resides in Southern California.

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
― Andy Weir, The Martian

Ares 3 is the latest mission to Mars. The six-person crew is there to study for 31 days before flying home. During a freak wind storm, astronaut and botanist Mark Watney is left behind and believed dead when he is impaled by a flying antenna during the evacuation. Due to the way he fell and was covered by sand, his suit was able to retain its pressure. When Watney comes to, he is able to return to the “hab”, a tent-like habitat and care for his injuries. He has no way to contact the ship or earth to let them know that he has survived.

It does not take Watney long to realize that even though he has survived his accident, it will be four long years before Ares 4 returns to Mars. While the Hab has enough air and water due to generating it, he does not have enough food to last that long. When going over the supplies, he discovered a package of real potatoes that was being saved for Thanksgiving dinner. Using his skill as a botanist, Watney creates compost from his own human waste and the martian soil and using the potatoes in the package as a seed crop. Soon, his hab is a mini-potato farm making him plenty of extra food.

In order to contact NASA, Watney realizes that the pathfinder probe is not too far away and he travels to it. When it is uncovered from the sand, its solar panels give it enough power to turn on. Watney devises a way to communicate with NASA via this primitive system until they can reprogram a connection in his rover to type back and forth. Watney is no longer alone and learns that a mission to rescue him is being planned.

Watney plans to drive his rover 2000 miles to Schiaparelli crater where the Ares 4 craft is waiting and making fuel for the next mission. He modifies one of the rovers for the mission, adding solar cells and an additional battery.

During this time, a freak accident creates a tear in the Hab and an airlock breaches. Watney’s second harvest is destroyed along with his compost. He does not have supplies to start his farm anew. He is once again threatened with starvation. NASA attempts to send him a resupply ship, but due to their haste, the rocket is destroyed in liftoff. Thanks to the Chinese, a second rocket is made available, but NASA is unsure if this second attempt will work.

A young astrodynamicist named Rich Purnell, discovers a “slingshot” trajectory that could get Hermes, the original spaceship that the crew is using to return to Earth, to whip around the Earth to gain speed and return to Mars faster than a second ship could. The chinese rocket could be used to send the supplies to Hermes so they and Watney would have enough air and food to survive, but this method would add an additional 500 days to their journey.

The space director is unwilling to risk the lives of the entire crew, but Captain Lewis learns of Purnell’s plan and decides to force the issue after taking it up with her crew. They are all willing to take the additional risk and the extra time in space if it will save their crewmate and friend.

Watney resumes his work on the rover and sets off on his long trek across the Martian surface to Ares 4. He faces many challenges along the way, each one of them coming close to killing him. The journey takes months of hard labor and loneliness. Meanwhile, Hermes is traveling back to Mars to get their man.

Will martian Mark Watney be rescued? You will need to read the book to find out.

The Martian Book CoverI read The Martian last year on a whim. I had heard good reviews on the story, but Weir was an unknown author to me who started out by posting his novel on a blog! While I am a supporter of independent authors, I am one myself after all, I was not sure if I was ready for a hard science SF novel. Well, my socks were blown off by this book and I fell in love with it. While the characters were not particularly deep, the sheer force of the depiction of living on the planet Mars with present day technology was astonishing. The planet Mars is as much a main character as Mark Watney and it is a powerful antagonist. As the logical mishaps befallen our astronaut, you start to root for the geeky Watney and his quest to stay alive long enough for NASA to rescue him. I could not put the book down.

The Martian is also a success story from an independent author point of view. This is Weir’s first novel and it was more a hobby to him than a career choice. By his own account he was not in writing to make a living. He hit the jackpot with his kindle book that snowballed into a traditional publishing deal and now a movie. It is every indy author’s dream and a one in a million circumstance. Kudos to Mr. Weir. I greatly look forward to his next novel.

Book Review: The Crystal Cave

Book Name: The Crystal Cave
Author: Mary Stewart
First Published: 1970

Lady Mary Stewart was born in Sunderland, England, the daughter of a vicar. She graduated from Durham University in 1938 with full honors in English. While she hoped to become a university professor, due to World War II, jobs were very scarce and she shifted gears, got a teaching certificate and taught primary school instead. After the war ended, she went on to earn a master’s degree and was hired as a lecturer of English Language and Literature at the Durham University.

It was during her years lecturing at Durham where she met a fellow lecturer, a young Scot who spoke of Geology, by the name of Frederick Stewart. They married within three months of their meeting at a VE Day dance in 1945. When she was 30, Lady Stewart had an ectopic pregnancy that was undiscovered for many weeks and damaged her. She lost the child and was not able to have any further children.

In 1956, her husband became a professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Edinburgh University in Scotland. Instead of continuing to teach, Mary Stewart decided to submit a novel to publisher Hodder & Stoughton. They accepted her book and it was an immediate success. She continued to write in many genres such as romantic suspense, poetry, and her famous Merlin Series which is a mix of fantasy and historical fiction.

Mary Stewart was a popular best-selling author throughout the 1950s through the 1980s. Her novel The Moonspiners was made into a Disney movie. After T.H. White produced his book The Sword in the Stone, Arthurian legends became popular. Mary Stewart soon after published The Crystal Cave and it was a huge hit. In the 1990’s it was adapted into a BBC TV series called Merlin of the Crystal Cave and starred Robert Powell as Ambrosius.

In 1974, Frederick Stewart was knighted and Mary became Lady Stewart, although she did not often use the title. She and her husband lived happily in both Edinburgh and Loch Awe, Scotland and were avid gardeners and shared a love for nature. He passed on in 2001. Mary followed him in 2014.

“The gods only go with you if you put yourself in their path. And that takes courage.”
― Mary Stewart, The Crystal Cave

Arthurian legends normally are told via the perspective of King Arthur. The Crystal Cave takes a departure from this trend by following the life of Merlin the Wizard or as he is called in this tale, Myrddin Emrys.

Myrddin begins his story when he is six years old and follows him until he is a young man. The Romans have departed Britain and it is now divided into many smaller kingdoms, loosely united under a High King. Myrddin is the son of a Welsh princess who declines to name his sire. He is small for his age and often neglected. He also has clairvoyant visions. This second sight causes him to be called as “the son of a devil”. He is educated by a hermit named Galapas who teaches him how to use his psychic talents and creates in him a young man of many intellectual talents in a age when brawn and fighting with a sword is more prized. Eventually, Myrddin finds his way to the court of Ambrosius Aurelianus of Brittany. Ambrosius wishes to invade Britain and become its High King. With him is his brother and heir, Uther.

When it is revealed that Myrddin is Ambrosius bastard son, he must leave the court. He returns to his home, only to discover that his teacher Galapas has been killed. He is captured by Vortigern, the usurper king of Britain. The usurper is building a fort, but the land is unstable at the chosen location and the walls tumble on a regular basis. Due to his education, Myrddin realizes that the walls fall because of a series of caves that are directly beneath the fort, but he informs Vortigern that the problem is due to dragons living in the ground. Soon after this, Amrosius invades and defeats Vortigern.

Myrddin uses his engineering talents to rebuild Stonehenge, but while doing so, he has visions of his father’s death. When a comet appears and Ambrosius dies, his half brother Uther Pendragon takes the throne.

The Crystal Cave Book CoverI stumbled onto Mary Stewart’s Merlin books in college. I loved Sword in the Stone and later Mists of Avalon, so another series of books about King Arthur and his knights was very welcome. I was surprised to learn that The Crystal Cave followed the original story of Merlin instead of Arthur. Stewart did an amazing amount of historical research to bring her novels into line with the original legends. She created a more organic and natural Merlin, an educated man, than wizard. The bringing in of psychic arts and druid religion gave the stories just enough of a fantasy touch to set them apart. It is a classic tale that has stood the test of time. If you love Arthurian legend, this is a series for you.

The Merlin Series

The Crystal Cave (1970)
The Hollow Hills (1973)
The Last Enchantment (1979)
The Wicked Day (1983)
The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995)