With all the variety of Arthurian tales and re-imaginings one must write a strong novel to stand out above the rest. A prime example of this is how [b:The Once and Future King|43545|The Once and Future King (The Once and Future King, #1-4)|T.H. White|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1338741283s/43545.jpg|1140206] utilises the mythology to discuss morality and the reality of modern life. However, The Crystal Cave
here neither particularly stands out nor provides a fascinating examination of an idea or ideal. Instead it stands as a dull, slow moving novel which blurs into the background of other versions of Merlin and Arthur.
The one thing this story does have working in its favour is that it presents a depiction of a young Merlin growing up in a fictionalised history. Mary Stewart aims to create a semi-realistic environment which could perhaps explain the origins of the Arthurian legends. However this on its own is no strong selling point for the novel. Or perhaps it is the only selling point. The story, with its reliance on telling a fictionalised history, removes much of the magic, intrigue and legend from the mythology. Rather than inserting other details to compensate the novel leaves the tale as it is, presenting the reader with an uninteresting narrative about a boy in an ancient world with a gift of prophecy.
It has been mentioned that the prose is particularly beautiful within this novel. Yet one hearing that would be easily misled. The prose is not particularly significant within the genre of fantasy (easily dwarfed by examples from Peake, Dunsany, Eddison and even Tolkien) or literature entirely. It perhaps is an economic language and certainly well structured yet the prose is not crystal clear, not does it flow like water when compared to the melodies of Joyce or Durrell.
When compared to other Arthurian tales ultimately this novel falls flat. It may have a depth of research and an intriguing idea yet its slow pace and shallow execution leaves the reader feeling uninspired and un-educated when compared to the variety of resources around with which to compare this work of fiction. Read only if you have a desire to know all things Arthurian.