The Squire’s Tale Series // by Gerald Morris

  • The Squire’s Tale – 1998 – 5*
  • The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady – 1999 – 4*
  • The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf – 2000 – 4.5*
  • Parsifal’s Page – 2001 – 4*
  • The Ballad of Sir Dinadan – 2003 – 3.5*
  • The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight – 2004 – 4*
  • The Lioness and Her Knight – 2005 – 4*
  • The Quest of the Fair Unknown – 2006 – 3.5*
  • The Squire’s Quest – 2009 – 4*
  • The Legend of the King – 2010 – 4*

I first stumbled across these books somewhere circa 2000 when I was wandering around the library.  Where I live, we’re about 40 miles away from Columbus, the state capital.  So we have our own local library and whatnot, which is perfectly nice, but if you want to visit a LIBRARY you go to downtown Columbus and revel – it’s huge and magical.  Anyway, now we have interlibrary-loan connected between my local library and Columbus, so I rarely have to actually go there – I can still access the entire catalog and have it delivered to my own tiny branch a mere five miles from my house, which is pretty amazing.  But back in the day my whole family used to go to Columbus and spend literally an entire day at the library (and were sad when we had to leave… I legit could probably spend days and days and days there before getting remotely bored) just wandering around, reading, making lists of books to read later, and finding various comfy corners to hide away with a new book.  And all that to say – The Squire’s Tale was one of the books I found on one of those trips.

The series focuses on various knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, and Morris consistently provides afterwords where he talks about where he found the inspiration for that particular book (frequently Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, but sometimes other sources).  Morris obviously uses a great deal of poetical license in his interpretation of various characters, but I love the way that he consistently makes the overwhelming majority of them likable. I remember reading Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga a few years ago, and I couldn’t get over how basically all of her characters were not very pleasant people – the books were overwhelmingly depressing and I barely slogged through them.  Morris presents a perhaps less realistic but far more enjoyable portrayal of King Arthur and his knights.

The first book introduces us to the two characters who become the main focus of the series, although many of the books branch off to other individuals – Gawain and Terence.  Gawain is a famous character of whom many stories have been told historically, while Terence is entirely of Morris’s creation.  The first book focuses on Gawain becoming a knight and questing, while Terence comes along as his squire.  But when the pair of them cross from our world into the world of faerie, it becomes a lot less clear as to who is the higher ranking of the two.  The friendship that grows between these two characters is one of my favorite things about the entire series.  They are both characters that I love so much, and Morris does a fantastic job of letting us watch them grow and mature as individuals and friends.

Throughout the series, Arthur is portrayed as a wise and just king carrying a great burden.  Other knights are both good, mediocre, and evil.  There are faeries and witches and everything in between.  Justice, strength paired with kindness, generosity, and chivalry and concepts that are woven throughout.

I love the way that Morris presents strong and weak characters – I don’t mind when an air-headed woman appears on the pages because there are plenty of intelligent women to balance her out… and plenty of air-headed men as well!  Morris somehow manages to make even the silliest of characters somehow sympathetic in their own way.  There are definitely gentle lessons throughout the books, but they never come through as polemic or preachy.

My favorites of the series are the ones with more humor/sass.  The first book is my very favorite out of the series, and even if you don’t feel like tackling ten books, you should at least read that one.  It’s a quick, fun read.  The other books vary, but the series on the whole is a solid 4* if not 4.5.

The Ballad of Sir Dinadan is probably my least favorite, which is a shame because I really like Sir Dinadan himself, and a lot of what happens in the book is very good.  But a large chunk of the plot revolves around Dinadan’s brother, Sir Tristram, who falls in love with another man’s wife.  The whole point of the story is how very, very ridiculous the concept of “courtly love” (i.e. it’s only romantic to love someone you can’t have), but it’s really a rather downer of a tale.  Then, out of all the stories to repeat, we get another version of it in The Squire’s Quest, which greatly reduced my enjoyment of that book as well.

But on the whole, the books are funny yet thoughtful, and so enjoyable.  I whipped through them a couple at a time, trying to pace myself.

I had only read The Legend of the King once before – I reread the series every time a new book was published, but hadn’t read the series again after the publication of The Legend.  I only had vague memories of the ending being satisfying, but sad – and that’s exactly what it was.  While the ending wasn’t a bad one, it also wasn’t a happy one – mainly because the ending of the Arthurian legend isn’t really very happy.

Still, it was a solid conclusion, and overall I can’t recommend these books highly enough.

The Crystal Cave


by Mary Stewart

published 1970

So this is book one of four in the “Arthurian Saga.”  However, The Crystal Cave isn’t really about Arthur at all – it’s entirely about Merlin.  We start with Merlin as a young boy, and watch him grow to adulthood throughout this engaging story.

First off, this book is set in Wales.  I’ve always been intrigued by/wanted to visit Wales, mostly because of the names.  Who can’t be drawn to a place where people are named things like Myriddn Emrys?  I love the way that anything in Welsh immediately sounds magical.

The story itself was quite good.  I’m no expert on Arthur, and haven’t read very many different versions of the legends surrounding him.  The exception is Gerald Morris’s series (beginning with A Squire’s Tale), which are some of my very favorite books (even though I haven’t read/reviewed them since I started blogging).  The point is, I really had no idea how Merlin’s story was going to unfold, and still have no real idea how things are going to continue on in the next three books.  I am coming to the series without a lot of preconceived ideas as to how a Arthurian legend should read, so I’m not going to be able to tell you how “accurate” (is that a word for how well a fictional book follows a legendary account?) the story is.

This was a pretty serious book.  Part of the reason I read more YA fantasy than adult is that frequently adult fantasy seems to have completely lost its sense of humor and is instead very grim and intense.  This book is alright in that area…  while definitely not funny, it doesn’t unnecessarily dwell at length on depressing themes.

The story is told in first person by Merlin himself, and he is telling this story as a very old man looking back on his life.  This adds a personable touch to the story, but because Merlin is also a magician who is gifted with the Sight, he is able to tell us about other parts of the story, even if he wasn’t there in person to see it happen.  This keeps the story well-paced and engaging, as Merlin tells what is happening even when he’s doing relatively boring or mundane things at the time himself.

There’s a lot going on, and there are a lot of characters to track, but Stewart, overall, does a good job of keeping people straight and finding natural ways to remind her readers of who somebody is if we haven’t heard from him in a while.

I definitely enjoyed this story and found it engaging, and am planning to finish the series.  However, I will say that at times the story can be a bit dark.  These are definitely adult books, with topics like adultery, whether a demon can father a child, war, betrayal, murder, magic, dark arts, and more.

My problem with these stories is the problem I have with really the Arthurian legend as a whole – Merlin is a bit too much like a god for my comfort.  In these stories, particularly, Merlin believes himself to be called by God, but decides throughout the course of this book that all the gods are actually one god, and any good or worship wrought in a “good” way is service to God, while any evil or worship in a “bad” way (e.g., human sacrifice as one religion practices in the book), is service to the devil.  This is not necessarily bothersome to me as a reader, but it does make me a bit uncomfortable recommending the books, as my personal religious views are obviously quite a bit different than Merlin’s!  :-D

Overall, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.  While this book was a bit heavy at times, the story still moved well, and I am interested to read about the arrival of Arthur at the beginning of book two.

PS I’m not sure if Arthurian legend books should be categorized as historical fiction??  Any thoughts??

Over Sea, Under Stone


by Susan Cooper

Published 1965

This is the first in a series of Arthurian tales set in modern (well, modern at the time of writing) times.  In this book, we meet the Drew children and, more importantly, their Great-Uncle Merry.  In this book, the children set off on a quest to find the Holy Grail, fighting the powers of darkness along the way.

It is a good book.  The pacing is excellent, the story is gripping, and the characters likable (or unlikable, as the case may be).  However, for  me, there are two kinds of fantasy tales.  The first simply avoid the mention of religion completely (Harry Potter, actually, is an excellent example of this).  The second express disdain and scorn for religious beliefs has just another (and inferior) fantasy.  Unfortunately, Cooper’s stories fall into the latter category.  While it is not as blatant in this first book, I have read the rest of the series in the past, and the concept that, basically, King Arthur is the savior of the world, and Jesus merely an echoing myth of King Arthur, is disturbing.

So while this book is, itself, a 3/5, I would not personally recommend the rest of the series.