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Summary

Mordred is the son of King Arthur, bastard child of his union with his half sister Morgause. Prophesied by Merlin to kill Arthur, Mordred is stolen away from his mother and raised in secrecy by a kind couple on an isolated Orkney island in the hopes that he will defy his fate.  

Mordred, known to history as a traitor and a murderer, is no villain but a quick-witted young man, with hopes and dreams of his own. But try as he might, Mordred cannot escape Merlin's prophecy.  

For his mother, Morgause, has plans of her own. She tracks her son down and takes him back, then feeds the flames of Mordred's ambition, setting into motion a chain of events that will go down in history - and legend - as father and son are finally forced to confront each other one last time: on the wicked day of destiny, when Arthur's final battle will be fought.  

Mary Stewart's stunning Arthurian Saga began with The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment and The Wicked Day. It concludes with The Prince & the Pilgrim.

©1983 Mary Stewart (P)2018 Hodder & Stoughton Limited

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Much, much better than I remembered.

I first read this book when it was published in
1983. I was then in my late teens and was already a huge fan of Stewart's Merlin trilogy. In fact, those books were among the influences that led me to study history and politics at university.

I read The Wicked Day several times between then and my mid-twenties, but never with as much enthusiasm as its precursors. Perhaps the third person narrative provided too much distance. I read later that Stewart herself thought so. Now, nearly 40 years later, I've come back to this volume in audiobook form, bringing maturity and a better appreciation of life's personal dilemmas, and of world realpolitik. I realise now how much I had missed or glossed over in this absorbing and complex novel.

It's now the academic fashion - I use the word advisedly, having spent some time in that world - to claim that Arthur never existed at all. Given the lack of contemporary documentary evidence, together with the rather partial interpretations of new archaeological finds, I don't believe that anyone can claim this for a certainty. During a long age of migration and invasion, numerous petty rulers of small territories throughout the British Isles and across northern Europe engaged in shifting alliances, that allowed for peaceful trade and dissemination of knowledge about the wider world on the one hand, and on the other for frequent dispute over the control of those small territories. It is entirely possible that one such figure, rooted in the Celtic Shore, with some kind of connection to former Roman rule, and a collection of distinctive friends and allies, should have tried to unite petty kingdoms against the continual larger threat of invasion from across the North Sea.

In the absence of any certainty, and drawing inspiration from the few original sources and some of the much later medieval fictional embroideries, Mary Stewart devised a deft, naturalistic tapestry of story. She ranges over personal psychology and motivation, social observation, low and high politics, a smattering of the supernatural, and an examination of the meaning of fate applied to individual action, to bring diverse threads together in a hugely satisfying whole. There is less of the lyrical description of the natural world that is such an important part of the Merlin books, but that is because the focus here is different. Mordred is different. The ending, when it comes, is quietly devastating.

Derek Perkins has done a fantastic job with his narration of this cycle of stories. That's high praise from someone who is frequently irritated by the sloppy diction and mispronunciations too common in audiobooks, that seem increasingly to be churned out with low production values and all eyes on the bottom line.

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Chapter accessibility

The way information was displayed I could only access each ‘book’ within the book and not individual chapters. As for some reason the recording kept jumping around and losing its place I found this impossible and didn’t finish the book. I have read and re read this book many many times over the years, and indeed the whole series, so this was clearly disappointing.

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Great story but not a fairytale!

I love her Arthurian books. This one had me gripped right to the ending which was written well and sympathetically but the ending left me hollow! That said she’d done her research and it’s definitely worth your time but remember this is this dark ages, not Disney! I’ll probably re listen again.