The Stone Crown by Malcolm Walker
|The Stone Crown by Malcolm Walker|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Absorbing time-slip fantasy recasting King Arthur through older and darker Celtic traditions to a war lord who brings havoc in his wake. The contemporary characters are strong and tied, despite themselves, to the harsh landscapes of the Scottish Borders.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 512||Date: November 2009|
Neither Emlyn nor Maxine feel completely at home in Yeaveburgh - yet they both have roots there. Emlyn's come back to the town in which he was born because his mother and sister, archaeologists, are working on a dig nearby. His father is in a care home, having suffered a nervous breakdown. Maxine returned to the town to live with her grandmother after her mother died of a heroin overdose. Emlyn is quiet and shy, a bit geeky, and lonely. Maxine is lonely too, but she'd never admit it. She's too spiky and defensive. They both feel like outsiders, and yet they both have a nagging sense that they are where they were meant to be.
They're both drawn to ancient site, Sleeper's Spinney, and here they unearth a group of wooden horsemen buried in the earth. No ordinary carvings, these little men hold the spirits of King Arthur and his followers, placed there under a curse during the Dark Ages. They've been guarded by the Keepers ever since, and today's Keepers, the McCrossans, want their figures back. Arthur, not the chivalrous king of Mallory's telling, but a vicious and cruel warlord, wants to be let loose.
And so Emlyn and Maxine find themselves pursued, both in this world and another.
I'm always partial to a new take on Arthurian myth and I also like a bit of realism to find its way into my fantasy reading. I love magic realism and if we can also allow the weather or the landscape to intrude into the narrative with a bit of pathetic fallacy, then pretty much all my boxes are ticked. Walker has all these things in this novel and so it was a fair bet that I'd like it. And like it I did.
Both the central characters are highly sympathetic, with background problems that inform their attitudes. Emlyn feels cut off from his practical and busy mother and sister and he misses his father, with whom he'd always felt most affinity. He's a dreamy boy and when the horsemen force their way into the gap between the worlds he falls easily into it with them. Maxine, on the other hand, is full of spiky bitterness. She never gives up and she faces down adversity with great courage and a good sprinkling of acerbic wit. You can't help but like them both and the conflict in their variant characters lends a lot to the power of the book.
The harsh landscape of the Scottish Borders plays a vital role. It's old and menacing and powerful, but it's also unchanging and permanent. Nature is presented as a force to be reckoned with - from the hills and the wind and the rain to the oak god living inside Arthur himself.
It's a long book at about five hundred pages, and if I had any - minor - criticism to make, it's that some of the tension gets a bit lost. We could have lost a scene or two and been slightly the better for it. But the writing is clean and accessible and vivid and the narrative is genuinely absorbing. All fans of supernatural historical fiction will love it, but I'd say it's ideally suited to those in the early secondary years and up - boys and girls.
My thanks to the nice people at Walker for sending the book.
If they like the look of The Stone Crown, then they will love the mix of the present day and myth in the classic The Owl Service by Alan Garner and another wonderful time-slip book Warriors of Ethandun by N M Browne. Past and present also mix to wonderful effect in Waterslain Angels by Kevin Crossley-Holland. Fans of the wild, borders landscape in this book might also like The Great Harlequin Grim by Gareth Thompson. Slightly younger readers might also enjoy The Telling Pool by David Clement-Davies, in which Arthur's sword Excalibur makes an appearance.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Stone Crown by Malcolm Walker at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Stone Crown by Malcolm Walker at Amazon.com.
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