Book Review | The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart

Good day all!

As promised here is a SPOILER FREE review of the Merlin Trilogy.

Before I jump into the actual review, it’s crucial that I provide the following statement:

I, Faith Rivens, am unapologetically an avid aficionado of any adaptation/reimagining/retelling of the Arthurian legend.

Phew! Glad I got that off my chest. 😉 I don’t know about the rest of you, but King Arthur was one of those stories that I discovered at a very young age and it has stuck with me ever since. Whether it was classic stories of the Round Table as found in Illustrated Classics or Mark Twain’s A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court or Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, I was surrounded by images that inspired me.

L in life, I discovered the joy of BBC’s Merlin, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, and the list could go on and on.

The point is, I am addicted to these kinds of stories. So discovering Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy was inevitable. That I thoroughly enjoyed the series as a whole was always assured.

Despite my bias, there is much merit owed to this series. A small disclaimer as we progress, this is a spoiler-free review for those of you already familiar with the legend itself. If you have no knowledge of Arthur and care about such things, take heed and turn away now 😉

The trilogy is told from the viewpoint of Merlin and begins in the first book Crystal Cave with his experience as a young boy living in Wales as he discovers the truth of his heritage and grows into his ability of clairvoyance. Following this structure, Arthur doesn’t enter the scene until the second book. Instead, the first book is devoted to Merlin’s interactions with Uther Pendragon and sets into motion the events that will lead to Arthur’s birth and his eventual reign over Camelot, plots that are developed over the course of books 2 and 3.

Stewart does a marvelous job of narrating the legend from the perspective of the infamous wizard, granting him a backstory that illustrates his traumas and triumphs and a character arc that is often denied him in retellings. Even more compelling is the relationship drawn between Merlin and Arthur. Merlin’s compassion is a strong force throughout the story, granting it a needed heart amid the turmoil. In the realm of character, the only nagging point is the lack of a strong female character. The original narrative is no different, but I always look to amendments on this front in these adaptations. I don’t reproach her too much for this oversight, though. If I need a strong retelling of female characters in the Arthurian legends, all I need to turn to is The Mists of Avalon.

As a retelling, the Merlin Trilogy triumphs in giving Merlin a voice and adds some twists to the well-known tales. It is not a story of Arthur and the Round Table, but of the man behind the proverbial curtains, on his own journey through life. The first person pov optimizes the effect, giving readers a clear look into Merlin’s thoughts, his fears, his beliefs.

Written in a gorgeous prose that evokes a thoughtfulness and magic of its own, I recommend this to any of you avid Arthurian fans out there, looking for a new take on the legend.

Before signing off, here’s a question for you: what is your favourite adaptation/retelling of the Arthurian legend (is it a movie, book, tv series, game, etc…)?

May inspiration flow like ink upon your quill,

Faith       quill-ink

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