From the Publisher
[star] "Spellbinding . . . A standout in this enormous canon."Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A subtle, many-layered tale . . . It is, as the book's ending tells readers, 'an old story but a good one,' and Yolen does it honor."VOYA (5Qhighest rating)
[star] "[A] page-turning tale of magic and adventure, betrayal, loyalty, and love."School Library Journal (starred review)
[star] "Combining old and new, adventure and idealism, this will leave many readers hoping for a sequel."Booklist (starred review)
The Washington Post
Yolen works her reliable magic on the old tale of the sword in the stone, not by re-telling it but by borrowing its themes and characters and shaping it into a whole new story, shot through with equal parts humor, intrigue and poetry.
Morgause feels that her 17-year-old son Gawaine belongs on the throne of England, in what PW's starred review called "a spellbinding twist on the Round Table legend." Ages 12-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, May 2003: There's a great secret in this story, kept so until the final chapters! There are hints here and there, but still, it is amazing when the secret is revealed. Otherwise, we have here another well-told story about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Arthur is young yet, unmarried; his mentor is Merlinnus, of course. There is a sword in the stonethe sword of legend: anyone who can pull the sword from the stone will be the rightful king of all Britain. There is the evil Queen of the North, Morgause, who from Orkney tries to murder Arthur and gain all the power. She sends her young sons to be knights. She herself journeys south to the court, at the time of the solstice when the sword will be removed from the stone. It takes all of Merlinnus's magic and the cunning of our young hero Gawen to defeat her. Gawen is a young man come to court who apprentices himself to Merlinnus rather than take on the schooling to become a knight. Yolen is a gifted writer of fantasy and has returned to this legend of Arthur and Merlin time and time again. She makes the action flow, blending the magic with reality. There are lines like these: "Merlinnus laughed. 'You are going to be a great king, Arthur. Not because you know the truth, but because you act as if you do.'" For all collections where there are those who enjoy the King Arthur stories. (An ALA Best Book for YAs.) KLIATT Codes: J*Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 2003, Harcourt, Magic Carpet, 361p., Ages 12 to 15.
That the King Arthur legends continue to inspire variations demonstrates the deep resonance they have for today's culture. Now, following her Young Merlin Trilogy, Yolen imagines the beginnings of the fateful relationship of Arthur and Guinevere. Arthur's claim to the throne of the High King is not yet assured, so Merlin devises the test of the Sword in the Stone. Magic will ensure that only Arthur can withdraw it, thereby solidifying his kingship. Merlin's bitter rival Morgause, however, covets the throne for her sons and applies her black arts to foil the king. Meanwhile a young boy, Gawen, arrives at Camelot, where his quick mind and ready tongue soon earn him a place as Merlin's assistant. This Gawen is really Guinevere, who seeks revenge for the supposed rejection of her sister by Sir Gawaine, eldest son of the scheming Morgause. Arthur, a brilliant leader but a man of action rather than subtlety, is no match for these women. Spying and counterspying, magic and manipulation-all reach their height at the Summer Solstice, when any who wish may try to draw the sword from the stone. Yolen employs simple vocabulary and straightforward storytelling to weave a subtle, many-layered tale. Her characters have depth and personality. Delicate foreshadowing reminds the reader where the pageantry, the violence, and the rivalries will lead, lending bittersweet poignancy to the love story of Arthur and Guinevere. It is, as the book's ending tells readers, "an old story but a good one," and Yolen does it honor. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2003, Harcourt,368p,
"It was an old story but a good one" ends Yolen's text, and in her hands, this old tale of King Arthur is fresh and alive. Merlinnus, to ensure that Arthur is recognized by all as the "rightwise king born of all England," uses his magic to place a sword in stone that can only be retrieved by Arthur. In the meantime, Morgause has sent four of her sons, Gawaine, Agravaine and the twins to Arthur's castle. Intrigue and assassination plots, as well as the arrival of a mysterious person who becomes Merlinnus' assistant, all keep the reader turning the pages. Arthur comes alive as a real person with strengths as well as weaknesses. Yolen conveys a strong sense of place and a real understanding of her characters Small details, such as the superstitions of the people, give richness to the story. She plays to her audience, the readers, when she references the Green Knight and has Gawaine ask what it is that women want. Yolen's words and phrases evoke this ancient time yet will appeal to today's reader. Put this at the top of your read-aloud list. 2003, Harcourt,
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Fantasy fans will appreciate the delightful twist Yolen introduces into the legend of King Arthur. A page-turning tale of magic and adventure, betrayal and loyalty, and love and hate. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Political intrigue dominates this new version of how Arthur came to pull the sword Excalibur from a stone. Arthur, already an adult, is king but without full support of the country, so his advisor Merlinnus creates a stone with a sword in it that only Arthur will be able remove--thus demonstrating that he’s the rightful king. Meanwhile, Morgause, whom informed readers will recognize as Arthur’s evil half-sister and former lover, turns her powerful black magic against Arthur, plotting to put one of her sons on the throne. She sends four them to Arthur’s court, where one may be trying to kill him--a mystery. Another mystery is the real identity of Gawen, a boy with golden hair and slim build who becomes Merlinnus’s new helper and Arthur’s increasingly important friend. Fans of King Arthur will be the best audience for this tale; the reading benefits significantly from already knowing the characters’ backgrounds, not offered in any detail. Although the prolific Yolen usually supplies more action, those who can’t get enough of Arthur and his court will likely enjoy the different slant on his rise to power. (Fiction. 11+)
Read an Excerpt
PRINCE GAWAINE took the stone steps two at a time, trying to guess why his mother, the queen, had sent for him. She only did that when she was angry with him, or wanted something from him, which usually came to the same thing. Either that or she was going to recite his stupid bloodlines again.
"I've half a mind," he said, puffing a bit as the steps were steep and many and he hadn't climbed them in a while, "half a mind to tell her what I've decided." He stopped on the landing and took a deep breath. "That I don't want to be king of Orkney. Not now. Not when I turn eighteen. Not ever."
He smiled faintly, having spoken aloud what he had been thinking secretly for over a year. Though of course he hadn't said it aloud to his mother, just aloud to the stone walls.
Let Agravaine have the throne, he thought fiercely. Or the twins. He took a deep breath. Or that brat Medraut. He started up the stairs again, still taking them on the double and thinking crankily about his mother and the throne. He knew that even if they were given the throne in his place, none of his brothers would have a chance to rule, anyway. Morgause would keep the power close to her own breast, with her spiderweb intrigues, with her spiteful magicks, with her absolute conviction that he or one of his brothers should not only be king of the Orkneys but High King of all Britain. And she the ruling queen.
A blast of wind through one of the arrow slits scoured his corn-colored hair. It blew sense into him at the same time. He slowed down.
No sense running, he thought. She might think I'm eager to see her.
When he made the last turning, he came face-to-face with her chamber door. No matter how often he came to it, the door was always a surprise, a trick of space and time, another of her plots. Made of a single panel of oak carved into squares, the door looked like a game board and was painted black.
Gawaine smoothed down his grey linen tunic and knocked on the one blank square. The rest of the squares were warded with arcane signs, spells that only she could read. The blank square was well-worn. No one, not any of her servants or his brothers-or even his father, when he was alive-ever dared knock on any other section of the door.
There was no answer.
Grinding his teeth-something he seemed to do only when he was home, in Orkney-Gawaine knocked again.
Still no answer.
"Damn her!" he whispered.
How she loved to play these games. Her servant Hwyll had said, specifically, she wanted to see Gawaine at once. He'd emphasized the two words: at...once. Poor Hwyll, a nice enough man, always kind and thoughtful, but he had no backbone. She had chosen him exactly because he had none. He was a conciliator, a peacemaker, the perfect servant.
"A pus pot," Gawaine said aloud, not knowing if he meant Hwyll, his mother, or the situation he found himself in.
He banged on the door with his fist, and cried out, "Mother!" His voice rose to a whine. Hardly fitting, he thought angrily, for a Companion of the High King.
MORGAUSE COULD hear her son's angry cry as she came down the stairs from the tower, clutching a handful of bitter vetch. She smiled.
It's good to let him stew, she thought. A stew long boiled makes easier eating.
She never tried to make things simple for her boys. Princes needed to be tested even more than peasants.
And my sons most of all.
Stopping on the stairs, she flung open one of the corbelled windows and glanced out.
The late-spring seas around the Orkneys were troubled. Ninety islands and islets, and all of them buffeted by extraordinary waves. "High wind and waves build character," she told herself. Her sons were in want of character.
Agravaine she was certain of, though he still needed a bit more tempering. And the twins-they dangled together, like rough-polished gems on a chain. Medraut was so like her, she knew his mind without working at it. But Gawaine...
Gawaine had gotten away from her. It had been three years or more since she'd understood him. It was all she could do to keep control. Of him. Of herself when she was with him. He made her angry when anger did not serve. He made her furious to the point of becoming speechless. Still, she needed him more than he needed her, and so she had to bring him close again. To heel. Like a hound.
Speaking a word of binding, she flung three leaves of the vetch through the window. The wind brought them back to her and she closed her hand around them, stuffing them into her leather pocket. She smiled again, willing herself to calm. Gawaine would be hers as he once was, the adoring and adorable towheaded first child. All of Lot's sons were susceptible to spells of binding, as had been their father. It was just a matter of patience and time. She had plenty of both.
Continuing down the stairs, she discovered Gawaine red-faced and furious, standing with his back to her door.
"I'm glad to see you, too, dear," she told him.
Copyright © 2003 by Jane Yolen
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