Book reviews / Fantasy

Book review: The Crystal Cave

The first of three Arthurian-themed books on this list and it was disappointing on more than one level.

First: the tone

Basically, Merlin, is a bit of a prick. The tone of his voice is insufferable know-it-all. Considering one of the things he does is organise adultery, it’s…wearing. As well, it was just too forced – it sounded Victorian and super formal. By the end of the book you basically just want to punch him in the face.

Second: the storytelling

You know what completely destroys any dramatic tension – when you end a chapter by explaining what is basically going to happen for the next several chapters or several hundred pages. But that happened all the time! Isn’t that breaking some cardinal rule of writing?

Third: every woman is a whore

Okay, maybe a couple aren’t, but almost universally women are described as prostitutes, slaves or whores or were there for the pleasure of a male character. I know there’s the whole thing about internalising sexism (as the author is a woman, Mary Stewart) and I can sure see it in this book:

  • Dinias had no servant, except one slut of a girl who looked after him apparently in return for the priviledge of sharing his bed.
  • There was a girl asleep in the corner, wrapped in a blue blanket on a huddle of pillows. As we passed I saw the curve of her bare shoulder and a tumble of straight brown hair. She looked very young. This person was essentially there to sleep with the King, and then to be discarded.
  • I had never before met a woman with whom I did not have to choose my words, to whom I could speak as I would speak to another man. Maybe you should stop being an insufferable prick, Merlin.
  • Even with power, it is not possible to read their minds. Duchess and slut alike, they need not even study to deceive. WOW. Thanks for that underhanded compliment, douchebag.
  • Uther’s star, so dazzling the lustre of the crowned Pendragon, that London would have forgiven him a public rape. Fuck you, medieval Londoners, get some perspective. Uther is an asshat who can’t keep it in his pants.

There were also only 3 women of any note in the book:

  • Merlin’s mother
  • Ygraine (who is Arthur’s mother)
  • the wife of another King (who was a Saxon and evil)

But hardly any of them have any agency, actual character development or much to add to the story. They were plot points in that Merlin needed to be born and Arthur had to be conceived. But they rarely talked or did anything. So, test-fail.

So in the end, I don’t think you need to bother with this one folks. On top of all of that, it’s not even that interesting. If you’re going to riff on Arthurian legend and on Merlin, at least make sure the main character isn’t an asshole and that the story isn’t boring. 1/5 stars.

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