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Publisher's Summary

Born the bastard son of a Welsh princess, Myrdden Emrys - or as he would later be known, Merlin - leads a perilous childhood, haunted by portents and visions. But destiny has great plans for this no-man's-son, taking him from prophesying before High King Vortigern to the crowning of Uther Pendragon, and the conception of Arthur, king for once and always.

©2016 Mary Stewart (P)2016 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Stewart was a scholar of the literature as well as a riveting and original storyteller, and Derek Perkins is her match. His delivery is faultlessly fine, conveying the heart-pounding excitement of Stewart's tale and the gorgeous atmosphere she has created, all while bringing to life a young Merlin who does not yet know what he is or will be.... Perkins is a marvelous interpreter of this fantastic and vividly imagined world and will leave listeners on tenterhooks for the next installment." (AudioFile)

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Fantasy as literature.


In early HS, the only time our class went to the library was to learn the dewey decimal system. But once I found that room -- secluded from the hallways with large heavy double doors and filled with silence and books -- I went to school, but the library was my true destination. It's where I found Jane Eyre, and Dickens, and George Elliott, and Austen -- and that changed everything. And yes, Mary Stewart's Merlin series, too.

I remember reading it at the time, with an amazed sense of wonder. Wonder over the magical subject matter certainly, but also wonder at the literacy of the author. This was fantasy written at an adult level, with the beautiful language I had learned to love. But it was more -- it gave me magic for the first time, and I loved it. It set me on a path to find the best fantasy books I could, because now I knew they were out there.

I am so happy to say that I have listened to The Crystal Cave this week with my sense of wonder still intact, and it gives me hope. How can we despair of a world that has such wonders in it? My quest for beautifully written books in every genre will never end.

To finally have it on audio, read by the great Derek Perkins, is almost too good to be true. This series is a treat, a joy and an opportunity to pass it on to younger generations, and I couldn't be more thrilled to give it a 5 star review. I wish I could give it a thousand.


HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: For everyone.

(Thank you, Mary Stewart.)

36 of 36 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Carol
  • Massachusetts
  • 10-14-16

Sublime Story, Superbly Told

“The Crystal Cave” is the first and best of Mary Stewart’s classic trilogy that recasts the Arthurian legend from the point of view of Merlin. In these books, Merlin Emrys--the first-person narrator of this and the second book, "The Hollow Hills"--is not the shape-shifting wizard of “Camelot” and “The Once and Future King,” but a small (even rather weak) mortal boy, the bastard grandson of a minor Welsh king. But he does have certain paranormal gifts, notably "the Sight."

Merlin's gifts are augmented with guidance from Galapas, a hermit who guards the secrets of the Crystal Cave, an ancient shrine hidden in the hills. Immensely curious, he also studies healing arts and engineering sciences, and is eager to learn all he can of different gods and religions. By the end of the book, the young man Merlin has made use of his knowledge and gifts in ways that would certainly render him magical to his contemporaries.

Set in 5th century Britain and Normandy (Less Britain in those days), this terrific novel is neither romance (despite the brief opening scene) nor fantasy (despite Merlin's gifts of fire and prophecy) nor historical fiction (despite the presence of some historical figures such as Vortigern and Hengist). This is Britain in the 5th century AD; the Romans have left, Christianity is trying to consolidate its foothold, and the land is besieged by the Norse and the Saxons. It is a unique story that melds legend and mysticism with history as it very well could have been.

The characters, even the minor ones, are heartrendingly real. Merlin and Aurelius Ambrosius are magnificent. Derek Perkins, a narrator I’ve always enjoyed, outdoes himself. It's a rendition I didn’t want to stop listening to. Like other reviewers, I’ve been hoping to see these books come to Audible for a long time, and I’m grateful Mr. Perkins agreed to perform this one. I hope he does “The Hollow Hills” and “The Last Enchantment” as well.

"The Crystal Cave" ends with the famous story of Merlin contriving to allow Uther (who is now High King of Britain) to satisfy his obsessive passion for the married Ygraine--thus leading to the conception of Arthur. This book is an immensely satisfying read (or listen) by itself, although you'll probably want to go on to "The Hollow Hills" and meet the young Arthur.

Some listeners may object that there are few female characters, and those that do appear are much in the background, but that is not really a flaw; it is both true to the period and (as you'll understand if you listen to it) intrinsic to the story as Mary Stewart tells it. It might be seen as the flip side to the feminist "The Mists of Avalon," but "The Crystal Cave" (with apologies to "Mist's" many fans) is the better book.

26 of 27 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • P
  • 10-04-16

Been waiting for this for decades

If you could sum up The Crystal Cave in three words, what would they be?

Timeless, enthralling, mesmerizing.

What did you like best about this story?

The Crystal Cave tells the story of Merlin unlike any other version. Mary Stewart brings Merlin to life in a way that is not just magical and mystical, making them real-life figures in a way that other Merlin tales have not been able to do.

What does Derek Perkins bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Excellent narrator who drew me into a story that I am extremely familiar with. I first read this book in 1972 and have reread it more times than I can remember. I've been waiting for the audible version for decades and was thrilled that Perkins narration did not detract from the voice of Merlin that has been in my head for over 40 years.

Any additional comments?

I am anxiously awaiting the second and third books in this series for a complete telling of the story! Please bring on The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Please! Continue the saga with Mr. Perkins!

If you could sum up The Crystal Cave in three words, what would they be?

Mesmerizing, beautiful adventure!

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Crystal Cave?

Merlin's most intense meeting with Ambrosias was so packed with emotion I had to listen three times.

What does Derek Perkins bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

His voice lends magic and pulls back the curtain on a time and people long passed. He is now a favorite narrator, alongside Donada Peters and Davina Porter. I will be looking for his other works, and pray that he continues with this saga. He deserves more than five stars as a wizard of the spoken word!

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Oh yes! I listen to audio books when going to sleep. This is so enthralling I have to turn it off to get to sleep. I also listen while driving long trips, and may listen to this again in the car.

Any additional comments?

I read all of Mary Stewart's books when first published, but that was many decades ago, and it is just lovely to rediscover her mastery, especially in Audible format! I remember The Moon Spinners as a favorite among her many stories, and would love to see other books from other eras, such as the excellent recording of Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White.
,

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Thank you Thank you Thank you

I have waited for a very long time to listen to these books. They are my "good book to live in", all of them. I have read them in print form at least every year since they were published. When I found they were, at last, available in unabridged form, I made girl noises, felt like "the sun had come out on my birthday morning, and I had been given the world" (a quote from another of Mary Stewart's books.), and then agonized about the narrator, hoping he would do a good job. He did. I highly recommend them.

To my mind, Madame Stewart has given the best interpretation of all the myths surrounding Merlin. His quest to serve God, the humility and grace with which he led his life, his use of his gifts for a greater good, all these things she ascribed to him have inspired me in my life. Add to that the action and the love stories, well, it is a complete joy.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Finally! Unabridged classic.

What did you love best about The Crystal Cave?

I've always loved this series by Mary Stewart and I have been waiting anxiously for an unabridged version. (Please tell me the other 3 books are coming.) This books gives the most detailed, fleshed out history and character of Merlin I have ever encountered.

What other book might you compare The Crystal Cave to and why?

I also love The Once and Future King by T.H. White. Merlin appears in that novel as the Merlin we know, expect and love. The Crystal Cave is an account of how Merlin became Merlin. It's a great story which enriches any other concept of Merlin we may encounter.

Have you listened to any of Derek Perkins’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I wasn't familiar with the narrator before this book. He does a great job.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes. But alas, it's too long for that.

Any additional comments?

I really hope that Derek Perkins will finish this incredible series which wonderfully recounts the rest of the Arthurian Legend. UNabridged, please!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Carole T.
  • Shepherdstown, WV, United States
  • 12-06-16

Arthurian Bliss

My husband and I have long been admirers of the King Arthur sagas - by Jack Whyte, Bernard Cornwell, and Marian Zimmer Bradley among others. We were so pleased to see Mary Stewart's interpretation come to Audible in unabridged form.

And she stands tall with the best of the Arthurian storytellers! Hadn't read "The Crystal Cave" in years, so we weren't quite sure what to expect but ended up eagerly listening to this during a couple of long car trips.

More recent versions such as those by Whyte and Cornwell (which we also very much enjoyed) have a more modern, curse and violent style, and we found "The Crystal Cave" to be lyrical and refreshing. Stewart's writing is so good and her vision so imaginative that the settings (including the crystal cave of the title) truly come to life, and the characters are beautifully realized. Merlin is presented as both a real and understandable man and as a mysterious, otherworldly creation. We have happily started the newly-available, unabridged "Hollow Hills."

Derek Perkins proves to be a perfect narrator for this material. So pleased to confirm that Mary Stewart's version of this classic tale has stood the test of time! If you are at all interested in King Arthur and Merlin, invest in this!

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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THIS HAS TO BE HOW IT HAPPENED

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Absolutely would recommend--the story is fascinating, and after reading one is left with the surety of what really happened.

What did you like best about this story?

I like the story of how Merlin progressed from an unwelcome bastard son to the master he became.

What does Derek Perkins bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Derek Perkins brings the right voice and tone to the entire story; his voice for each character is perfect.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

How It Began

Any additional comments?

I'm so thrilled that we finally have an unabridged version of this classic.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A Timeless Tail

I read this Arthurian series of Mary Stewart in the 70's and have never found a more compelling story ever since. Thank you Audible for bringing these books to audio with such a great narrator. This written language by Stewart will be forever my favorite.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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None better since Le Morte D'Arthur

What did you love best about The Crystal Cave?

I tried to explain the difference between standard children's fantasy and this series to my youngest children as Disney versus Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli). One relies so heavily on stereotypes that it is a mere sketch and the other depicts in great detail how children see their "treasures", how adults see rain drops falling on water, how bodies really move in all their awkwardness and grace... The unabridged Crystal Cave and Hollow Hills are like that to me.

What other book might you compare The Crystal Cave to and why?

Many people make ceaseless comparisons that become so much noise to my ears. In my opinion, if you boil the classics of fantasy epics down to their essence, you come up with The Lord of the Rings, Earthsea, Riddlemaster, Wheel of Time, Belgarion, and this...

Have you listened to any of Derek Perkins’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, but I'm very pleased with this performance.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, but fine books are like fine spirits - one can sip and still be pleased beyond measure. There are passages in book three that twenty years later I can quote and still get shivers up my spine ... Such as when Merlin, after not having visions for many years, sees an invasion of a seaside village in full clarity and Arthur does not doubt him... Even as I type this it makes my eyes tear up... Powerful, moving literature...

Any additional comments?

Do not settle for an unabridged version of this series. The first two books are the height of fantasy literature. The third almost as good. The fourth is wonderful literature as well, but my heart is not strong enough for the tragedy...

2 of 2 people found this review helpful