Book Review: The Seeing Stone trilogy by Kevin Crossley-Holland

15 Apr

Sometimes all it takes to get back into the spirit of reading is some good, old-fashioned Arthurian legend. And because it’s me, and I feel obliged to read the genre I write so that I can keep up with the fads, fashions, and trends, it’s Arthurian legend, young adult style.

Now, I confess I’m no Merlin fan, but I like a good King Arthur story. I like the musicals (Camelot, and Spam-a-Lot) and the movies (The Holy Grail and The Sword in the Stone are my favourites)… not to mention all those other written versions, like The Once and Future King. And so logically, I would enjoy The Seeing Stone

And I did, of course. I know, I know, it’s like I can’t hate a book at all. It’s only because the moment I dislike one, I stop reading it, and therefore can’t in good conscience blog about it.

The Seeing Stone, and its sequels (At the Crossing-Places and King of the Middle March, of which I’ve only read the former but will soon be seeking out the latter), revolve around another young Arthur, whose life parallels that of Arthurus Rex but instead, he lives during the Crusades. He is given a large obsidian stone by the very same Merlin as guided the King Arthur in the past, through which our Arthur is able to watch his kingly counterpart and enjoy and learn from the legend.

The series thus far is very enjoyable. I firmly believe that anyone who enjoys Arthurian legend will find this an excellent addition to what is already out there, because it is not simply a re-telling. There is the anticipation and joy of the familiar, mixed in with the new Arthur’s unique story and the thrill of what will happen to him. Being young adult fiction, I sometimes found the foreshadowing and counterpoint of the two stories to be ever so slightly heavy-handed, especially with Arthur’s occasional significant dreams or songs, but never so much that it detracted from the moment. But on the other hand, I like the short chapters, which speed the adventure along and don’t make any scene last longer than it should.

Though it jumps ahead, I thought I would include a little commentary on At the Crossing-Places in this review, only because I will probably not review it on its own. If not for length, it could easily have been part of the first book, because it is a near seamless continuation of the first story. Unlike some YA series, there is not a huge amount of information that we re-visit (the insurance that the young reader remembers the world or the stories, etc.). I quite liked this, and thought it was an appropriate meld.

At the Crossing-Places also delves a little further into the Arthurian myths that don’t necessarily concern just King Arthur. I can’t speak for the third book and which parts of the legend it draws from (I have a sneaking little guess that it finally alights on Lancelot), but I found this simultaneously enjoyable and distracting. To put it bluntly, there are a fudge ton of knights who all have some kind of special little tale. Perhaps too many were included. Since the readers were already keeping track of two storylines, plus a number of stories told by storytellers, fools, and present-day Arthur himself, I thought straying too far from King Arthur and maybe one or two specific knights made it a bit too much to handle. And while the book often takes a lovely new view of some of the old tales, I was slightly disappointed that one of the side legends I did recognize – Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – was a very bland re-telling, with not much to set it apart from the original myth.

If I don’t stop now, I have a feeling I could go on all night, so on with the credits:

Things I Loved: The unique story of Arthur in the crusades. ✥ Most of the familiar but slightly altered stories of Arthurian legend seen in the stone. ✥ Gatty and Winnifred! This is unsurprising, as Gatty seems to have been so popular, Kevin Crossley-Holland has written her a whole book to herself (which I have also checked out from the library!). ✥ The way life is interwoven around Arthur, in that hints are left around and around him of important events through the story rather than episodically (like the seeing stone sections). ✥ The chapter lengths which are short if they need to be, and feel youthful while giving a great voice to the narrator.

Things I Didn’t Love: The mass amounts of characters in certain sections (this is not always an issue, but even upon opening the book, one is hit with character reference lists which just feel overwhelmingly long). ✥ The well-written but simply the same re-tellings of a few of the myths. ✥ Hum, Haket, and Sir William! Though to be fair, we’re not meant to. So villains I can dislike might actually be a thing I liked… ✥ The sometimes blatant symbolism, but this is pretty minor, as it wasn’t as bad as I think I’ve made it sound.

Takeaways for Writers: Experiment with a character watching another character’s life. ✥ Experiment with paralleled stories. ✥ Write a character who is based on the familiar, but has a twist.

Takeaways for Readers: Read one of the other numerous re-tellings of Arthurian legend (The Once and Future King by T.H. White, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley✥ Read a book about another Arthurian character, such as Merlin or Gawain (Mary Stewart’s trilogy, beginning with  The Crystal Cave focuses on Merlin). ✥ Read another young adult novel set in medieval times (The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce for fantasy, The Pagan Chronicles by Catherine Jinks for non-fantasy.

xx Miss Reading

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