Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Last Enchantment

This third book of Mary Stewart's "Merlin Trilogy", The Last Enchantment has proven to be my favorite of the set. I tend to judge the books I read by the style of book it is and how well it meets my expectations for the genre. For example, a really good adventure/thriller novel makes me want to keep reading faster and faster to get to the, hopefully, satisfying conclusion. A good mystery may make me read a bit slower to make sure I'm not missing some vital clue along the way. The Last Enchantment was one of those fantasy novels that made me want to really take my time, just to savor the story itself, relishing not only in the classic Arthurian mythos that I love but also in the writing style of Mary Stewart. And I did take my time, nearly a whole week for just one novel!

I enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy quite a bit but this one was one notch better still. Both of the preceding novels were fine on their own but, I think, served largely to set the stage for this third volume. We start with Arthur just having been proclaimed King after Uther's death, and get to watch him through Merlin's eyes as he grows into his role. All of the pageantry of the Arthurian legends comes to the fold here but not always as we are used to seeing it. The author's note at the end explains how she used many historical texts as well as the original Arthurian works by Mallory (Morte d'Arthur) to keep to the more authentic legend. Merlin, of course, takes center stage in these novels, telling the story from his first person POV. Ms Stewart does a masterful job of keeping him honest, showing his foibles along with his genius. Not much in the way of description of battles is to be found here; Arthur is often away leading one battle or another but that is all done off stage. Rather the book concentrates more on the relationships of those around Merlin himself such as Nimue, his student/lover/wife and ultimate successor. Other prominent characters such as Morgan, Morgause, Lot, Bedwyn and a host of allied kings and queens all make their appearance.

This trilogy is among the best fantasy I've read and will take an honored place on my shelves. There is another follow-on book still to go, The Wicked Day, which details the events surrounding Arthur and Mordred and while technically is part of this "Arthurian Saga" by Stewart, it is not part of the Merlin trilogy.

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