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Keeping watch over the young Arthur Pendragon, the prince and prophet Merlin Ambrosius is haunted by dreams of the magical sword Caliburn, which has been hidden for centuries. When Uther Pendragon is killed in battle, the time of destiny is at hand, and Arthur must claim the fabled sword to become the true High King of Britain.


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Keeping watch over the young Arthur Pendragon, the prince and prophet Merlin Ambrosius is haunted by dreams of the magical sword Caliburn, which has been hidden for centuries. When Uther Pendragon is killed in battle, the time of destiny is at hand, and Arthur must claim the fabled sword to become the true High King of Britain.

30 review for The Hollow Hills

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    It makes no sense that a book I have read this many times could still make me thrill with anticipation, bask in the beauty of the language, and cry with genuine emotion; but it does. I could not have chosen anything better to read in these dark days--there is always the promise of light. 4/9/20 ----------------- After the thrills of The Crystal Cave, we pick Merlin up, bleeding on the side of the road out of Tintagel, and watch as he begins his journey into the life of the boy who will be King Art It makes no sense that a book I have read this many times could still make me thrill with anticipation, bask in the beauty of the language, and cry with genuine emotion; but it does. I could not have chosen anything better to read in these dark days--there is always the promise of light. 4/9/20 ----------------- After the thrills of The Crystal Cave, we pick Merlin up, bleeding on the side of the road out of Tintagel, and watch as he begins his journey into the life of the boy who will be King Arthur. One of literature’s great characters, Merlin is the bridge between Ambrosius and Arthur--the once and future kings, and for my money he embodies all that is fine about both of them. Mary Stewart's Merlin appeals to me mostly because of his humanity. He pays a high price for his powers, and they are granted to him only at the whim and determination of his god. Thus, it is not Merlin who controls events or chooses history, but Merlin who works on earth to bring about a plan clearly forged in heaven. By that same token, he cannot always prevent tragedy, and he must bear, as all men do, his share of regret and disappointment. He states, “I was the god’s instrument, but I was not the god’s hand.” He knows his role and it prevents his being arrogant or self-important and makes him lovable and real. We are able to see him as a man who is given the difficult role of shaping the right future for a nation by trusting that God is behind him in whatever he must do. A pretty heavy burden. In The Crystal Cave, we see Merlin as a boy and a youth, learning about his god and how to wield his powers. In The Hollow Hills, we see Merlin the man, who understands and has confidence in himself and what he can and should accomplish for his god. And, we see Merlin as a father-figure, with Arthur as his child, his progeny, his legacy. Even the legend of Arthur is enhanced by Stewart’s presentation of Arthur as a boy rather than as we usually see him, a full-grown King. He is shaped by his foster family into a person of values and we see how he comes to rely on Merlin for both love and guidance. For anyone who has only the image of Merlin as a wizard in flowing robes, self-assured and able to command the thunder when he desires, I submit that this image is an empty jug compared to this Merlin of flesh and blood who must think and feel his way toward the purpose that lies in front of him, a purpose that is passed to him as a sacred duty by his own father. There are moments of descriptive beauty that are awe-inspiring. There are moments of sentiment that bring tears to my eyes (even after multiple readings). There are moments of intelligent humor that make me smile and which give the characters who speak the lines depth and tangibility. Stewart is a masterful storyteller, with the wisdom and skills of Homer. She transports us. The only thing that makes coming to the end of this book tolerable is knowing that The Last Enchantment lies ahead!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂

    “I am nothing, yes; I am air and darkness, a word, a promise. I watch in the crystal and I wait in the hollow hills. But out there in the light I have a young king and a bright sword to do my work for me, and build what will stand when my name is only a word for forgotten songs and outworn wisdom, and when your name, Morgause, is only a hissing in the dark.” This book is full of quotable quotes like the above and The Legend of Arthur & Merlin is one of the great tales off all time, but unfor “I am nothing, yes; I am air and darkness, a word, a promise. I watch in the crystal and I wait in the hollow hills. But out there in the light I have a young king and a bright sword to do my work for me, and build what will stand when my name is only a word for forgotten songs and outworn wisdom, and when your name, Morgause, is only a hissing in the dark.” This book is full of quotable quotes like the above and The Legend of Arthur & Merlin is one of the great tales off all time, but unfortunately this book is a flawed diamond. The main problem for me was the very slow start. Book 2 in particular really dragged in parts. At it's worst it reminded me of some of Georgette Heyer's leaden writing in her medieval books. I think both authors struggled going back so far in time. When Arthur reentered the book the story improved very much. I really like the way Arthur was depicted. By book 4 the writing was reminding me of J.R.R. Tolkien. This was a good thing - I'm a massive LOTR fan. The read of the final book flew by for me and I'm going to try to read the third part by the end of May. I think I would have enjoyed this book more if the read was closer to my read of Bear that in mind when you read this review. :)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    Following on from the spell binding The Crystal Cave Mary Stewart came up with an equally enthralling page turner taking us from the morning after Arthur's conception until he is proclaimed King of Britain at fourteen, on the day after of the death of his father Uther Pendragon. It shows us the story through the eyes of a very human, brilliantly intelligent, resourceful, and wise Merlin with powers of enchantment. Merlin is takes to oversee Arthur's childhood where he is been placed under the ca Following on from the spell binding The Crystal Cave Mary Stewart came up with an equally enthralling page turner taking us from the morning after Arthur's conception until he is proclaimed King of Britain at fourteen, on the day after of the death of his father Uther Pendragon. It shows us the story through the eyes of a very human, brilliantly intelligent, resourceful, and wise Merlin with powers of enchantment. Merlin is takes to oversee Arthur's childhood where he is been placed under the care of Count Ector of Galava (modern day Ambleside in Cumbria, Northern England) where Artuhr grows up with his foster brother Cei, and his loyal bosom friend Bedwyr. Filled with battles, chases, stand offs, melees and exciting journeys, it begins when Merlin is 22 years of age. Arthur has not een born through actual magic shape shifting as in the original legend ub th through disguise, subterfuge and trickery. The magic in this series is downplayed but not discarded and in Merlin's brilliant clairvoyance. Merlin go's into hiding after learning that Uther wants the child to be hidden until he has produced a 'legitimate' heir. He journeys across Europe where he discovers the existence of the sword Caliburn which is in Wales. He finds Caliburn in Wales and from there to the north of England where he becomes tutor to the young Arthur (Emrys) and Bedwyr. In Galava Merlin has a vision of the word Guenwyvhar when he is with Arthur and Bedwyr, in the shape of an owl, which he foresees will come between the two boys with Bedwyr being figure that will be in the role of Lancelot. Merlin and the young Arthur plays a key role in the battle where the invading Saxons are once again rooted and forced to flee On the death of Uther who proclaims Arthur as his heir just moments before departing the world, Arthur's right to kingship is challenged until he returns to the Chapel and draws forth Caliburn as proof before the assembled nobility A true spellbinding page-tuner in an amazing five part touer de force, combining history, folk-lore and imagination. Mary Stewart is a genius storyteller.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    An excellent follow up to The Crystal Cave & beautifully read. It's the same in style & tone, too. I want to call this 'old school' fantasy. There is no graphic sex, violence, or even any flashy magic, but there is an aura of mystery & pomp that permeates the entire story. There is a hard core of realism tempered by spirituality that defines the world & the magic. The descriptions are lyric, too. A fantastic break from the current style of writing & yet not boring at all. In many ways it reminds An excellent follow up to The Crystal Cave & beautifully read. It's the same in style & tone, too. I want to call this 'old school' fantasy. There is no graphic sex, violence, or even any flashy magic, but there is an aura of mystery & pomp that permeates the entire story. There is a hard core of realism tempered by spirituality that defines the world & the magic. The descriptions are lyric, too. A fantastic break from the current style of writing & yet not boring at all. In many ways it reminds me of the Lord of the Rings. Excellent.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nisa

    I enjoyed more than the first book (I didn't think it was possible). Well, when I read the first book in the series l loved it but as I go on reading the second book I began to feel more and more excited even though Mary Stewart made me wait to let happen what I looked forward to coming. But even though it came late, I was enjoying as much as I grew impatient. I loved Arthur as much as I love Merlin. If this series even a little seems interesting, you shouldn't miss and read them :))) I don't kn I enjoyed more than the first book (I didn't think it was possible). Well, when I read the first book in the series l loved it but as I go on reading the second book I began to feel more and more excited even though Mary Stewart made me wait to let happen what I looked forward to coming. But even though it came late, I was enjoying as much as I grew impatient. I loved Arthur as much as I love Merlin. If this series even a little seems interesting, you shouldn't miss and read them :))) I don't know how this story will go on until 5th book but I can't wait to read them all :))

  6. 4 out of 5

    Moonlight Reader

    The first half was 3 stars, but the second half was amazing. More later!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    Mary Stewart’s Arthurian books are certainly very different to her romance/mystery ones. It’s much more the world of Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset than the sort of world her heroines inhabit in the modern stories: one of uncertain magic and prophecy, of blood and hatred and death. And it comes out much less positive about female characters. There are few prominent ones, and even mentions of women tend to be dark portents and shadows on the future Merlin foresees. But I do love the Welsh ba Mary Stewart’s Arthurian books are certainly very different to her romance/mystery ones. It’s much more the world of Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset than the sort of world her heroines inhabit in the modern stories: one of uncertain magic and prophecy, of blood and hatred and death. And it comes out much less positive about female characters. There are few prominent ones, and even mentions of women tend to be dark portents and shadows on the future Merlin foresees. But I do love the Welsh background, the Welsh names, the way that the different races of Britain are all represented here and are all Arthur’s subjects. It’s doubly difficult to read this with any sense of suspense, though. First, Merlin knows what’s going to happen, at least broadly, and secondly, it’s the Arthurian legend. You can do surprising things with it, but Stewart sticks fairly close to the sources, which leaves very little room for surprising anyone who knows the source texts well. She plays the tropes relatively straight, too, and telegraphs all the usual causes of strife in Camelot well in advance. Arthur isn’t even acclaimed as king yet until the very end of the book, and already there’s foreshadowing for various betrayals. I really must look up Bedwyr’s involvement with Gwenhwyfar more — several modern tellings align him with her, and I can’t remember what might spark that. Still, Stewart’s writing is good, and the sense of atmosphere she brings to the more far-flung settings for her romance/mystery stories is equally strong here, in the cold and damp corners of Britain. Her writing in this book reminds me a lot of Sutcliff, which can only be a compliment. I do hope she’s more subtle with Morgause, Morgian and Gwenhwyfar, when they appear properly, though. Originally posted here.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Oliviu Craznic

    A beautiful, wonderfully written story. Even the Christians are treated fair (unlike the previous volume). One star out for a redundant episode: Merlin is caught three times, each time being released once recognized. Not unbelievable given the circumstances; however, the author could have done that part of the tale much better.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Candi

    5+ dazzling stars! Another phenomenal installment in Mary Stewart's Arthurian saga, The Hollow Hills begins right where we concluded the brilliant gem of a story, The Crystal Cave. The masterful storytelling, the wonder and the adventure are no less evident here than in the first of the series! I was captured once again and savored every word as if it were a treasure. In this book, the compassionate and human side of Merlin is revealed even further. Merlin, as "the instrument of the gods", knows 5+ dazzling stars! Another phenomenal installment in Mary Stewart's Arthurian saga, The Hollow Hills begins right where we concluded the brilliant gem of a story, The Crystal Cave. The masterful storytelling, the wonder and the adventure are no less evident here than in the first of the series! I was captured once again and savored every word as if it were a treasure. In this book, the compassionate and human side of Merlin is revealed even further. Merlin, as "the instrument of the gods", knows it is his destiny and duty to protect and instruct the young Arthur in order to fulfill the prophecy of one High King and a united Britain. What he no doubt didn't divine – and what I adored most about him – was that he would grow to love Arthur and that this love would be so unequivocally reciprocated, like that between parent and child. I have to share here one of my favorite excerpts – one where Merlin reflects on those little moments that perhaps matter the most after the passing of time: "Through a man's life there are milestones, things he remembers even into the hour of his death. God knows that I have had more than a man's share of rich memories; the lives and deaths of kings, the coming and going of gods, the founding and destroying of kingdoms. But it is not always these great events that stick in the mind: here, now, in this final darkness, it is the small times that come back to me most vividly, the quiet human moments which I should like to live again, rather than the flaming times of power. I can still see, how clearly, the golden sunlight of that quiet afternoon. There is the sound of the spring, and the falling liquid of the thrush's song, the humming of the wild bees, the sudden flurry of the white hound scratching for fleas, and the sizzling sound of cooking where Arthur knelt over the wood fire, turning the trout on a spit of hazel, his face solemn, exalted, calm, lighted from within by whatever it is that sets such men alight. It was his beginning, and he knew it." Ah! Just love it! Such wisdom and such nostalgia! What else is there to say but this - you really should get your hands on this series and experience the delight that these books will bring to you as they did to me. Perhaps I could mention you will learn more of the legend of the famed sword, maybe get a glimpse at some new characters and developments to come (even a dash of wickedness!), meet the inhabitants of the hollow hills themselves, and perch on the edge of your seat with an awesome and suspenseful fighting scene! Oh, should I mention that this is going straight to my favorites shelf along with the first book?! Thank goodness I have the next book in this spectacular series ready and waiting!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. An absolutely wonderful interpretation of the Arthurian Legend!!! Mary Stewart's writing is captivating! The Hollow Hills is a thoroughly satisfying read; a masterpiece! (I am not sure what else I can say that has not already been said about this book.) My favorite passage: "If it was indeed the King's sword of Britain, and Arthur was to be the King who would lift it, it must lie in a place as holy and as haunted as the shrine where I myself had found it. And when the day came the boy must be led An absolutely wonderful interpretation of the Arthurian Legend!!! Mary Stewart's writing is captivating! The Hollow Hills is a thoroughly satisfying read; a masterpiece! (I am not sure what else I can say that has not already been said about this book.) My favorite passage: "If it was indeed the King's sword of Britain, and Arthur was to be the King who would lift it, it must lie in a place as holy and as haunted as the shrine where I myself had found it. And when the day came the boy must be led to it himself, even as I had been led. I was the god's instrument, but I was not the god's hand." I particularly loved the way Mary Stewart brings Arthur and Merlin together in the Wild Forest; I would say the moment they finally meet face to face shines through as a favorite of mine. This book is enjoyable from cover to cover! I loved it! I would highly recommend this book to any of my friends! P.S. Grown-ups only, please!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sotiris Karaiskos

    The second book in the series follows much the same path with the first by stayin mainly outside of the classic legend, necessarily of course because of the choice to follow the story through the eyes of the magician Merlin. In the case of this book Additionally we are in a vacuum of the story between the conception of Arthur and his taking of the crown so necessarily the author must improvise and here we fall in a problematic situation. I must confess that I do not believe that this gap was cov The second book in the series follows much the same path with the first by stayin mainly outside of the classic legend, necessarily of course because of the choice to follow the story through the eyes of the magician Merlin. In the case of this book Additionally we are in a vacuum of the story between the conception of Arthur and his taking of the crown so necessarily the author must improvise and here we fall in a problematic situation. I must confess that I do not believe that this gap was covered in a way that keeps the interest at especially high levels. There is of course a tour in the world for training purposes and, above all, an attempt to explain the more fantastic elements of the classic tale with an alloy of realism and magic-which plays a larger role-that leads to an almost Mystic result, but it wasn't enough. From this difficult situation, though, the book gets out when we are coming to the end. The events that led to the nomination of Arthur as King described in a very nice way with the writer conveying too well the feelings of the protagonists and to us recommending to us the people who we’ll deal with in the rest of the story. This exciting finale fully compensated me and overturned any moderate impression, making me to wait anxiously for the next book having the belief that it will be even better. Το δεύτερο βιβλίο της σειράς ακολουθεί τον ίδιο δρόμο με το πρώτο κινούμενο κυρίως εκτός του κλασικού μύθου, αναγκαστικά βέβαια λόγω της επιλογής να ακολουθούμε την ιστορία μέσα από τη ματιά του μάγου Μέρλιν. Στην περίπτωση αυτού του βιβλίου επιπρόσθετα βρισκόμαστε σε ένα κενό της ιστορίας ανάμεσα στη σύλληψη του Αρθούρου και της ανάληψης της βασιλείας οπότε αναγκαστικά η συγγραφέας πρέπει να αυτοσχεδιάσει και εδώ πέφτουμε σε μία προβληματική κατάσταση. Πρέπει να ομολογήσω ότι δεν πιστεύω ότι το συγκεκριμένο κενό καλύφθηκε με έναν τρόπο που να μου κρατάει το ενδιαφέρον σε ιδιαίτερα υψηλά επίπεδα. Υπάρχει βέβαια μία περιήγηση στον κόσμο για εκπαιδευτικούς λόγους και πάνω από όλα μία προσπάθεια εξήγησης των πιο φανταστικών στοιχείων της κλασικής ιστορίας με ένα κράμα ρασιοναλισμού και μαγείας - η οποία παίζει μεγαλύτερο ρόλο - που οδηγεί σε ένα σχεδόν μυστικιστικό αποτέλεσμα, όλα αυτά όμως δεν ήταν αρκετά. Από αυτή τη δύσκολη κατάσταση, όμως, το βιβλίο ξεφεύγει όταν πλησιάζουμε στο τέλος. Εκεί τα γεγονότα που οδήγησαν στην ανακήρυξη του Αρθούρου ως βασιλιά περιγράφονται με έναν πολύ ωραίο τρόπο με τη συγγραφέα να μεταφέρει πάρα πολύ καλά τα συναισθήματα των πρωταγωνιστών και να μας συστήνει τους ανθρώπους που θα μας απασχολήσουν λογικά στη συνέχεια. Αυτό το συναρπαστικό φινάλε με αποζημίωσε πλήρως και ανέτρεψε οποιαδήποτε μέτρια εντύπωση, κάνοντας με να περιμένω με αγωνία τη συνέχεια πιστεύοντας ότι θα είναι ακόμα καλύτερη.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    So excellent in language and description, this one didn't tickle me as much as the first book did. Merlin's travels for that decade were interesting, but for me anyway- those ten years covered in this book tempered it all so much! The intensity of the "musts" of the first book for his own role / power ability to grow, they were far more in this tale merely a miasma "practicing" of "after" to that. In fact, I didn't feel the considerable sacrifices that Merlin made to accept and use his power was So excellent in language and description, this one didn't tickle me as much as the first book did. Merlin's travels for that decade were interesting, but for me anyway- those ten years covered in this book tempered it all so much! The intensity of the "musts" of the first book for his own role / power ability to grow, they were far more in this tale merely a miasma "practicing" of "after" to that. In fact, I didn't feel the considerable sacrifices that Merlin made to accept and use his power was "paid for" as much here in this period of life as in the first book of his extreme youth either. In this one he has immense danger, but also holds superlative freedoms. And almost no fear, since he can often portent outcomes. But THE FREEDOMS, in movement, inquiry, avocation- etc. etc. No bad thing, don't get me wrong- they made such growth and knowledge! But for me- just too many under characters are now caught too in the crux within the entire picture of his long term goals and he is not "in it" all alone for every manipulation any more. Ralf especially will be more featured in the next phases, and I missed him in more than 1/2 of all these pages. And Arthur (10 to 14 years old here in the flesh) is as excellent as the presupposition and all of Merlin's manipulations would equal for his real physical and mental states to be. AND YET!! So much of this late 5th century sensibility toward the woman and the underlings/ servants and the children too?? And does Arthur reflect it, both in references and in actions. In this one I wanted to hit the 14 year old Arthur up side his head. I know, totally revisionist of me because that was then and this is now. But still, what an ego and what insular entitlements! And he can't be all that bright either, as Merlin and his own biological father or mother have been consistently in these two books prior, in order to plot this out to get here to this point of returning back "home". Because he so wrongly guessed Merlin was his real father and didn't figure so much of the rest out to familial relationship? And he barely remembers Brittany or that language after living there for more than his first 4 years? And what about that dumb side wet nurse who adored him? Hmmmm! I guess it doesn't take high IQ to unite England under one crown and a singular rule of law power. Just the right bloodline and a wizard on your side! Beauteous descriptions of course again. Sublime prose of place. But am increasingly disappointed in the female side soul captures, regardless. They just aren't there. But in this era, women rarely even had a personal name in the tale told "around" them, even those with a title. And I like Merlin's growth in seer abilities and consolidations of his powers here- done slowly and with much less severe and heroic boundaries of using others as much as he did in his extreme youth. This is a spectacular and beautiful period book but quite overlong. It does give the status feel of all of Merlin's adult learning years before he begins the big "teach".

  13. 5 out of 5

    Obsidian

    This will be a short review because I have a joint blog post about this book with my co-blogger in crime, Moonlight Reader. I still like having Merlin as the narrator in these books and we do get some insight into what power is calling to him and also to Arthur. I found Merlin to be just as obstinate as the character of Uther at times because he doesn't like to be challenged. And I think at times Stewart tries to over explain the appeal of the character of Arthur to those around him. The women ar This will be a short review because I have a joint blog post about this book with my co-blogger in crime, Moonlight Reader. I still like having Merlin as the narrator in these books and we do get some insight into what power is calling to him and also to Arthur. I found Merlin to be just as obstinate as the character of Uther at times because he doesn't like to be challenged. And I think at times Stewart tries to over explain the appeal of the character of Arthur to those around him. The women are here and gone in moments in this story. I really wish we had gotten to follow Ygraine more. We have at the end of this book the death of Uther and her long gone son becoming king, you would think she would be nearby. We do get glimpses of Morgause, but I thought her reasoning behind what she does still didn't make a lot of sense. Morgain was just talked about, a lot. That said, most of the book dragged dreadfully. It wasn't until book four, 'The King' that the action kicked into high gear. We finally get to the end of the book with Arthur becoming king, but we also know because of the events in this one, an ill wind is blowing his way.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Wayne Barrett

    In part 2 of the Arthurian saga we have, instead of Excalibur, Caliburn. The sword is claimed by Arthur in a different manner from the traditional story but still fits nicely with the theme. As with book 1, I think Hollow Hills is also a great book and keeps the reader yearning to move on to part 3.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Layton

    These books are so beautifully written. Is it bad, being as how it's called the Arthurian Saga, that I'm bummed the next one is going to be more about Arthur and less about Merlin? Favorite quotes: 387. "Everyone knows the King's unchancy to cross. But you just looked cold as ice, as if you expected him to do what you wanted, just as everyone does! You, afraid? You're not afraid of anything that's real." "That's what I mean," I said. "I'm not sure how much courage is needed to face human enemies- These books are so beautifully written. Is it bad, being as how it's called the Arthurian Saga, that I'm bummed the next one is going to be more about Arthur and less about Merlin? Favorite quotes: 387. "Everyone knows the King's unchancy to cross. But you just looked cold as ice, as if you expected him to do what you wanted, just as everyone does! You, afraid? You're not afraid of anything that's real." "That's what I mean," I said. "I'm not sure how much courage is needed to face human enemies--what you'd call 'real'--knowing they won't kill you. But foreknowledge has its own terrors, Ralf. Death may not lie just at the next corner, but when one knows exactly when it will come, and how... It's not a comfortable thought." 537. [Arthur] said, with little to be heard in his tone except exasperation: "How long will it be before you realize that I would give my life itself to keep you from hurt?" 569. [Arthur] said, flatly, and as if it explained everything, as I suppose it did: "I thought you were my father." ... "Even my name, you see." The dull apology of his tone was worse than the cruelty that shock had brought from him before. (Breaks my heart!) 576. I am nothing, yes; I am air and darkness, a word, a promise. I watch in the crystal and I wait in the hollow hills. But out there in the light I have a young king and a bright sword to do my work for me, and build what will stand when my name is only a word for forgotten songs and outworn wisdom, and when your name, Morgause, is only a hissing in the dark. 593. Must I remind you of the prophecy? It was not my prophecy, it was made before I was born; that the sword should come by water and by land, treasured in darkness and locked in stone, until he should come who is rightwise king born of all Britain, and lift it from its hiding-place.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lara

    Mm. I could literally roll in Stewart's writing. Seriously. Like a dog. It's just... the setting of it all is so rich it's like Middle Earth. Only, er, real. Sort of. And not quite as gorgeous and fantastic - but close.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Landon

    Sometimes it is the later books in a series that really bring the whole thing together. This is definitely the case when it comes to The Hollow Hills. The story doesn’t exceed The Crystal Cave, in fact, I would say the Crystal Cave is by far the more interesting novel, but I firmly believe that The Hollow Hills takes the story of Merlin, and makes it a legend. I think that it is this novel that makes me think back to The Crystal Cave with a smile, because the happenings of that novel are constan Sometimes it is the later books in a series that really bring the whole thing together. This is definitely the case when it comes to The Hollow Hills. The story doesn’t exceed The Crystal Cave, in fact, I would say the Crystal Cave is by far the more interesting novel, but I firmly believe that The Hollow Hills takes the story of Merlin, and makes it a legend. I think that it is this novel that makes me think back to The Crystal Cave with a smile, because the happenings of that novel are constantly referred to in The Hollow Hills. Characters tell his tale amongst themselves in a very embellished manner. Merlin himself lives in his own legend in this book, as The Hollow Hills tells the tale of Arthur, and Merlin’s role in his rise to the throne. Book II: The Rise of the King The second book starts shortly after the first ends. Therefore, a little bit of a refresher course may be needed. Merlin, the son of Ambrosius, raised as the bastard child in a small kingdom in central Britain, helps his father overthrow the High King Vortigern, with the ambition of uniting all the small kingdoms of Britain in order to have a more powerful Britain. However, this meant defeating King Vortigern and all his allies, including the Saxons, who are always a threat to the British throne in these novels. After securing Amrbosius’s place on the throne, Merlin goes to Ireland to take the King’s Stone to Britain to build the “Giant’s Dance” (Stonehenge). Upon returning, Ambrosius has died, and his brother Uther has taken the throne. Uther falls in love with the wife of the Duke of Cornwall. Her name is Ygraine, and with Merlin’s help, they are married and they conceive what is to be the child of Merlin’s prophecy, Arthur, whom Merlin has said is to be “the king of kings.” So our story begins here, with the birth of Arthur, whom Uther wants put in hiding in hope of conceiving a child that would not have the title of bastard. Merlin hides Arthur with people he is familiar with; first with Moravik, who was his own servant in his grandfather’s castle. Later Arthur is moved to the kindom in Galava, where he is raised separate from his royal family without the knowledge of his royal blood. Characters: Less is Sometimes More If you’ve read my review of the first book, located here, then you know that one of my biggest peeves of the first novel is the fact that merely every character doesn’t make it to the back cover. Stewart might have taken a similar form of criticism as in the continuation of the tale, less characters are introduced and less therefore, go away. Of course, the main introduction of the novel would be Arthur, who we get to see raised from around the age of 9. We also learn of his friend Bedwyr, who is probably the most underdeveloped character throughout the rest of the story. Arthur, who is completely unaware of his heritage, is raised as a bastard who’s family has died, but he is trained by the most gifted educators and swordsmen. Merlin himself also teaches Arthur, though more as a friend, as Arthur does not know his teacher is the great enchanter Merlin. In continuing development of characters known in The Crystal Cave, we learn more about Uther, who says true to his old description as a rash warrior type, instead of the level headed Ambrosius. Another character who doesn’t go through much change is Merlin himself, as he seems to live through his own legend that was formed in the pages of The Crystal Cave. In all of his travels, he hears his own tales, and when the people know who it is they are speaking to, they speak in complete awe. Overall, the character development is vastly improved from the first novel, as there is by far less character turnover, except for one spot, which would be Merlin’s assistant. I believe Merlin goes through 3 or 4 different assistants within The Hollow Hills, each with very interesting characteristics that you want to tell Stewart, can we please keep this one? Plot: The Road to the Throne This entire novel is basicly the fulfillment of Merlin’s earlier prophesy, and there are not many twists and turns on the way there. This might be the downfall of magical prophesy within a fantasy tale, as if the prophecy wasn’t to come true, one might question the magic at hand, and therefore, discredit our main character. Merlin is alone for much of the book, and travels throughout Europe. He brings a lot of legend and lore into the tale, telling the story of Maximus, the great Roman King who united all of Britain, much in the same way that Ambrosius whished to accomplish. It tells the story behind the great sword in which Arthur must hand (sometimes known as Excalibur, though not in this book.) Story-wise, I’d say The Crystal Cave has the edge, but that is not to take away from this one either. This story includes the same level of magic as well as the same level of prophesy, though maybe not at the same grand level. The reader is taken through a wonderful adventure lead by the great enchanter Merlin throughout Britain, which is again well mapped out by Stewart, in the same manner as the first one. Once again I will mention it is important to look back at this map throughout Merlin’s travels, as it will enhance your understanding of the adventure. Recommended For: I did enjoy this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed The Crystal Cave, as they are written in the same general style. The level of detail is comparible, as well as the objects in which Stewart deems worthy of her detail. If you are a lover of historical fantasy and don’t mind missing out on some of the more interesting details of some of the climaxes, then this story is definitely a winner, because the tale in its totality is surely a well written one.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    Another solid 4 to 4.5 stars! This book continues the story of Arthur through the writing of Merlin. I thought the characters were great and made me feel involved in the story. The writing (through Merlin) is very well done. It has enough details and action in the story to pull the reader in and not too much that the story slows down. With this second book it brought about memories of me as a child watching the sword in the stone. I think this made me feel more connected to the story and able to Another solid 4 to 4.5 stars! This book continues the story of Arthur through the writing of Merlin. I thought the characters were great and made me feel involved in the story. The writing (through Merlin) is very well done. It has enough details and action in the story to pull the reader in and not too much that the story slows down. With this second book it brought about memories of me as a child watching the sword in the stone. I think this made me feel more connected to the story and able to enjoy it even more. I find myself really enjoying this telling of the legend of Merlin and King Arthur and will continue to read the series.

  19. 4 out of 5

    M.L.

    This book is fantastically descriptive and very enjoyable to read. The world-building was immersive, and the characters were well sketched. It fell short with the women in the book, none of whom left any real impression and all of whom were treated and discussed by Merlin with either dismissiveness or contempt. I found this book in a second-hand bookstore and am now looking to read The Crystal Cave before moving on to later books in the series. The Hollow Hills was a good stand alone book, howev This book is fantastically descriptive and very enjoyable to read. The world-building was immersive, and the characters were well sketched. It fell short with the women in the book, none of whom left any real impression and all of whom were treated and discussed by Merlin with either dismissiveness or contempt. I found this book in a second-hand bookstore and am now looking to read The Crystal Cave before moving on to later books in the series. The Hollow Hills was a good stand alone book, however, and I didn't feel lost while reading despite having skipped the first.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Donihue

    The king is dead! Long live the King!! The second book in the series. It starts with the birth of Arthur and ends with the Death of King Uther and the ascension of Arthur to the throne. There are some real gems in this book. I enjoyed it thoroughly and am looking forward to the next book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stace Dumoski

    When I wrote up my review of The Crystal Cave, I said I had read the first two books in this Arthurian series by Mary Stewart years ago, but I think I may have been wrong. None of what I read in this second volume felt at all familiar to me (except in the general Arthurian sense), so I’m not sure I ever read it after all. Of course, it’s only been a short time since I finished it and it’s and is already fading from memory, so who knows? The only distinct impression I have after reading The Hollow When I wrote up my review of The Crystal Cave, I said I had read the first two books in this Arthurian series by Mary Stewart years ago, but I think I may have been wrong. None of what I read in this second volume felt at all familiar to me (except in the general Arthurian sense), so I’m not sure I ever read it after all. Of course, it’s only been a short time since I finished it and it’s and is already fading from memory, so who knows? The only distinct impression I have after reading The Hollow Hills is that I really didn’t like Merlin at all. Since he’s the first person narrator it makes it difficult to enjoy the book as a whole. His self-righteous assurance that everything is going to happen exactly as it’s supposed to not only leeches any tension from the narrative, but it makes him rather unsympathetic as a character. He has no doubts, no conflict between his own desires and what his God wants him to do, nothing that makes him feel like a person instead of a divine tool. He never even expresses the least bit of discomfort at the near-legendary status he’s already achieved in his life. Confidence is sexy, sure, but he just comes across as an entitled prick, naturally deserving of the accolades and honors that come his way, even though (he freely admits) he really didn’t have anything to do with it, since he was just a tool for his God. I actually cheered when Morgause seduced the young Arthur, right under Merlin’s nose, because it’s the only thing that happened that threw him for a loop. Poor Morgause. We’re not supposed to like her, I know, but I couldn’t help feeling empathetic towards her. She’s one of only two women in the book given a voice.* We first meet her at age 14, when she asks Merlin to teach her magic. His response is pretty much to pat her on the head and say, “Pretty young girls like you don’t need to learn magic, go make us some tea.” is it any wonder she goes “bad”? She wanted power and influence in her world, and since legitimate channels were refused her, she had to take some less savory routes to achieve it. It’s hard to get excited by a world view that automatically assumes that women who want power must be evil. As a side note, this is the first literary version of the legend where I’ve seen Morgause and/or Morgan depicted as Uther’s children, instead of related to Ygraine (sisters or daughters). I had wondered where the two recent TV series came up with that idea! Aside from not liking the main character, and the book’s lack of positive female characters, I didn’t actually hate it – I’m just not that enthusiastic about it. The writing is good enough, though the story is weaker than in the first book, largely because of the aforementioned lack of tension. It covers Arthur’s birth through his ascension to the throne. Arthur’s youth and education is not nearly as entertaining as it is in The Sword and the Stone (book or movie), unfortunately, but Arthur is likable enough. It does some interesting things with the historical and legendary sources, weaving in the tale of Macsen Wledig, and suggesting that the “fay folk” are actually the non-Romanized early Brits who hide in the hills and mountains (but not necessarily without magic). The actual discovery of the sword Caliburn (Excalibur) feels a bit contrived, as Merlin has to do a lot of maneuvering to set up events that will generate both the sword in the stone legend as well as the Lady of the Lake** origin story, while still preserving a historical sensibility for the event instead of something that is purely mythical or magical. I still like the blend of history and legend – I just wish the historical viewpoint was not so narrow-minded when it comes to women. All in all, I’d say this was worth a read for someone interested in the literary Arthur, but it’s not something I can see myself coming back to read again in the future, and it wouldn’t win a space on my bookshelves. It’s just not that compelling. Definitive, Unofficial Ranking of Arthurian Novels (that I’ve read): The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart (1970, Book One of the Merlin Trilogy) The Hollow Hills, by Mary Stewart (1973, Book Two of the Merlin Trilogy) * The other is Merlin’s old nurse, and all she really does is praise him. ** Of course there is not actually a lady involved, because we couldn’t have that any powerful females in the story. There’s a grim bit where Merlin is cleaning up an old chapel, and as he is restoring many of the pagan icons that the previous caretaker had removed, he mentions that he’s glad a bloody, curved knife has been disposed of permanently, because nobody ever wants to invite the goddess’s presence into things.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cara

    Others have reviewed this book at great length, so I'll just focus in on what has stayed with me since my first reading (I've read this series multiple times): the relationship between Merlin and Arthur. In so many tellings of this tale, Merlin appears only at the beginning--to prophesy Arthur's coming, to teach him and prophesy his death, and then to disappear. Arthur may mourn the loss of a guide/teacher/enchanter, but the relationship between the two is not as important as Arthur's relationsh Others have reviewed this book at great length, so I'll just focus in on what has stayed with me since my first reading (I've read this series multiple times): the relationship between Merlin and Arthur. In so many tellings of this tale, Merlin appears only at the beginning--to prophesy Arthur's coming, to teach him and prophesy his death, and then to disappear. Arthur may mourn the loss of a guide/teacher/enchanter, but the relationship between the two is not as important as Arthur's relationship with Lancelot or Guinever. Here, Stewart builds a strong familial connection between the two (and, in fact, Merlin and Arthur are first cousins in this re-telling). The dynamics of the relationship change somewhat, as Arthur matures and discovers his true parentage, but the bond never does. It makes everything that comes later--Merlin's prophecies regarding Mordred, Guenevere, and Bedwyr (Lancelot), for example--more powerful and poignant. This is an enchanter who does't just admire the king--he loves the man. And this is an Arthur who's allowed to be a fully-realized person, and the center of the story (so often, Arthur remains on the sidelines as the tales focus on his knights).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    The sword in the stone Mary Stewart style- absolutely brilliant! I loved the way that this very famous part of the Arthur saga was dealt with in such a totally believable way.(view spoiler)[ Mryddin first having a treasure hunt to find a long lost sword from Maximus, having found it hides it again in a place where Arthur would find it later. There was no Lady of the Lake figure, but with Myrddin hiding it on an island in the midde of a lake gave the story it's necessary mystery with Arthur disco The sword in the stone Mary Stewart style- absolutely brilliant! I loved the way that this very famous part of the Arthur saga was dealt with in such a totally believable way.(view spoiler)[ Mryddin first having a treasure hunt to find a long lost sword from Maximus, having found it hides it again in a place where Arthur would find it later. There was no Lady of the Lake figure, but with Myrddin hiding it on an island in the midde of a lake gave the story it's necessary mystery with Arthur discovering it at precisely the right moment. As for the sword in the stone, again a brilliant version. Myrddin using his knowledge of chemistry and physics learnt on his travels in the far east now uses this to provide what appears to the somewhat uneducated kings and lords by comparison a truly magical spectacle of Arthur taking the sword from a stone altar. (hide spoiler)] The descriptive and writing stlye of Mary Stewart brings the story truly to life for me in a way that is mystical yet believable. Can't wait to read the third book at a later date!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tristy

    The Mists of Avalon ruined any other Arthur legend tales for me. I know this is a famous and well-loved version of the story (written by a woman, even), but it's just too Christian and patriarchal for me. The Mists of Avalon ruined any other Arthur legend tales for me. I know this is a famous and well-loved version of the story (written by a woman, even), but it's just too Christian and patriarchal for me.

  25. 4 out of 5

    debbicat

    Much more than 5 stars. What a satisfying read!!!! I liked this one even more than The Crystal Cave. I am excited to read the continuing story in The Last Enchantment with Arthur now as King. Full review to follow. So beautifully told.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Terence

    The Hollow Hills is the second book in Mary Stewart's Arthurian saga and covers the fifteen years between Arthur's birth and his acclamation as High King as experienced by Merlin, who spends much of it avoiding the limelight and traveling to Asia Minor and Constantinople. In a word, not taking a role in Arthur's life whatsoever until a few months before the boy's acclamation. Which is the primary problem. We can't engage with either the chief character of the novel or with his ostensible ward. We The Hollow Hills is the second book in Mary Stewart's Arthurian saga and covers the fifteen years between Arthur's birth and his acclamation as High King as experienced by Merlin, who spends much of it avoiding the limelight and traveling to Asia Minor and Constantinople. In a word, not taking a role in Arthur's life whatsoever until a few months before the boy's acclamation. Which is the primary problem. We can't engage with either the chief character of the novel or with his ostensible ward. We're observers to events that are happening far away to people we have no connection with. A feeling deliberately enforced by Stewart, whose Merlin consistently emphasizes his passivity (and other's) in the unfolding of events - everything that happens is the will of the God (who may manifest as the Christian God, Mithras or any other divine being) and all we can do is accept it. It drains the saga of any dramatic tension. Another distraction I found was Arthur himself. The boy is simply too good to be true. Not just in a moral sense but in all ways - he has wisdom, ability and charisma far beyond that of a fourteen-year-old boy. Which I might have accepted more readily if Stewart's retelling were more mythological/fantastical. There the "chosen one" can display all manner of miraculous abilities (i.e., Jesus' performance in the synagogue when only thirteen or Herakles' exploits in the crib). But she chose a mostly historical mode, which means - in order to accept Arthur's precosity - we need to spend more time with the boy. The feminine continues to receive shortshrift. Women are either Madonnas (Merlin's mother, Ygraine (sort of), Drusilla), whores (Morgause) or dismissed as irrelevant (Morgian). And the few allusions to a feminine divine principal suggest a blood-thirsty, savage, evil entity. So why three stars? Partly for nostalgic sentiment; a reflection from my earliest days as a serious reader and a love of the Arthur myth in pretty much any form. Another is that Stewart has an eye for colorful detail and - despite my complaints about the nature of the story - an excellent sense of pacing. We may feel like observers but we're observers of an exciting story. And then there's the notion, which I realized after finishing the novel, that the narrative's passivity is a deliberate strategy on Stewart's part and that Merlin is a most unreliable narrator. This is, after all, the purported memoirs of Merlin who lies entombed in the Crystal Cave (how we are reading them is unclear but moot). It's understandable, then, why Merlin doesn't portray himself (or any other "good" guy) as culpable for anything but rather tools of a higher purpose; and it explains why the motives of everyone else are consistently portrayed as political or military machinations to achieve simple, mundane power. It also explains the misogyny - Merlin has been terrified of women since a boy and he is brought low by a woman. Things that would color anyone's perception of females. I may be reading too much into the text but I will be heading down to the library today (July 28) to check out the third and fourth books and complete this tale left unfinished from my youth.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Danny Runkel

    While the characters in the story were interesting enough, the fact that Merlin is not in fact an enchanter of immense power is a take on the saga that I did not particularly care for. For me, it was almost akin to making Sherlock Holmes solve all of his mysteries by pure luck rather than unparalleled genius. In addition, much of the story was not all that relevant. There were times where I would skip entire pages that went on an on about political unrest with so and so in such and such a place. While the characters in the story were interesting enough, the fact that Merlin is not in fact an enchanter of immense power is a take on the saga that I did not particularly care for. For me, it was almost akin to making Sherlock Holmes solve all of his mysteries by pure luck rather than unparalleled genius. In addition, much of the story was not all that relevant. There were times where I would skip entire pages that went on an on about political unrest with so and so in such and such a place. I didn't care. I wanted to read about Arthur, not some obscure lesser king in a region on the borders who would never be mentioned again. There were significant parts of the book where the author presented info dumps of rather uninteresting information. Furthermore, there was never a set belief that Merlin seemed to hold to. Many times he would refer to many gods, and give honor and homage to a few of them, while at other times he would refer to the guiding hand of the Christian God. Be Merlin a Christian, or be him a Pagan, it matters little, but for the sake of consistency, make him at least one. Stylistically, the book was in fact written well. There were times of beautifully portrayed description, and well phrased thoughts. I felt like I was present in many scenes, and I could understand and relate to Merlin in his endeavors. Of the four main pillars that uphold a book, (characters, plot, style, and setting) I believe the author admirably perfomred in style and setting, but fell short in character expectations and plot arrangement. I will continue to read the other two books in the series, because I'm a sucker for Arthurian Legend, but I do hope it picks up in the action and grows in its mythic proportions.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Zora

    Slow. At page 250 I realized I'd seen only about 25 pages of plot. I couldn't help feeling as if I were reading the author's background notes or justification for fitting her version of the tale into the older myths. If you read the Wikipedia plot summary, you can see really only three or four things happen. If you do read the Wikipedia plot summary, you shouldn't feel like you missed much by not reading the book itself. If I had gained insight into magic or Merlin's heart or something, I wouldn Slow. At page 250 I realized I'd seen only about 25 pages of plot. I couldn't help feeling as if I were reading the author's background notes or justification for fitting her version of the tale into the older myths. If you read the Wikipedia plot summary, you can see really only three or four things happen. If you do read the Wikipedia plot summary, you shouldn't feel like you missed much by not reading the book itself. If I had gained insight into magic or Merlin's heart or something, I wouldn't have complained, but in all those other pages there is this: Descriptions of trees and some history and a few people telling each other things that have already happened in scene.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shelby *trains flying monkeys*

    Ok, the first book of this series was just so so for me..then I started this one. Oh my! I am loving it. Merlin goes on a search for the legendary sword, Arthur grows up, Uther the king passes and so much more. Written so that you feel you are right there with Merlin leaning over his shoulders.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Karas Jim

    A decent sequel to the first book of the series. Arthur slowly but surely becomes the pivotal figure of the narrative, with Merlin receding to a more secondary role, with glimpses of the power that he exhibits in the Crystal Cave. This book felt quite repetitive and slow-paced to me, and that is why I did not get overly excited reading it.

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