Arthur de Caldicott lives in a time of change: Richard the Lion-Heart has just died, replaced by the cruel King John, and it will be the year 1200 soon–a time of new beginnings. And Merlin has just given him a seeing-stone that shows him the story of King Uther and another Arthur who is himself, but who isn’t. If only Arthur could figure out what it all means…
Not the best of summaries, admittedly, and I don’t think it conveys how much I LOVED this book. I almost didn’t read it, to be honest. Almost. It started with present tense, which all regular viewers know I HATE, and present tense popped up throughout the book as well, but it was done sensibly as a way to distinguish between the stone and real life, and as such I didn’t mind it so much.
This book is written as the diary of 13-year-old Arthur, and what I loved most was that it detailed the way of life for the people of 1199. The division between rich and poor, the cold and hunger, the way 60 people gathered in one place was an awful lot, the hard work people had to go through just to survive, the unfaltering belief in religion, the strange medical remedies, the struggle of babies to reach their first birthdays. All this from the hand of a 13-year-old struggling to come to terms with the unfairness of the world, all the while mesmerizing us with the magic of the stone and the parallels between the Arthur we know from other stories and the unique life of this Arthur.
Honestly, it’s probably my favorite book I’ve read so far this year, though I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a plodding sort of plot without many action scenes (though I suspect the sequel will have more). I was just loving soaking up life in 1199!
The cast of characters was hugely entertaining too. Arthur himself is curious and quick, and grows a lot over the course of the book. Gatty is so resilient and wise beyond her years. Nain is funny; Sian is cute; Merlin is quirky. Even the animals seem to jump from the page.
As a retelling of Arthurian Legends, I can’t say I’ve read enough in that area to make a comment. I can say I enjoyed it immensely as a historical fantasy, and that I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys that genre. I was so disappointed when I finished this book and couldn’t get straight into the next because I realized I bought Book 3 rather than Book 2!