by Mary Stewart
This is the second book of the Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart. It begins where the first book left off, taking us through the lead up to the birth of Arthur through to the moment he is recognised as rightful king.
Most of the story focuses on Merlin himself and his travels as he keeps track of what is going on in the kingdom, making a point of learning what factions are loyal to the king and which pose a threat or which petty kings become overly ambitious when the only son of the High King is not visible to the people.
Like the first book, there are accurate historical references couched within the fantasy element and the story is told in first person in a rich storyteller's tone. The discovery of the legendary sword Excaliber (aka Caliburn) is pure artistic licence, but believable as any of the less practical legends or more so and pulls the story together so that the accepted elements of the Arthurian legend remain mostly intact.
Stewart veers off the traditional track a little with her characters, changing the parentage of Morgan LeFay and splitting her into two characters to fill different purposes. In this her version is entirely her own. She quotes a legend at the end to support the character of Morgause, but gives no reference and I've never seen it anywhere else.
In the latter part of the book, we get to know Arthur as a young man a little. I did feel this part became rushed and the last couple of chapters seemed to skim past the well known elements of the legend far too quickly. Despite my misgivings about the changes she has made to those legends, Mary Stewart tells a deeply atmospheric story and I've enjoyed reading it very much.