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Merlin's Harp    by Anne Eliot Crompton order for
Merlin's Harp
by Anne Eliot Crompton
Order:  USA  Can
Sourcebooks, 2010 (1995)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Schulenburg

Nivienne is one of the Fey - known by outsiders as Good Folk, or Fair Folk, they live beside but apart from Humans who are in turn fascinated by, and terrified of them. Nivienne's mother is the Lady of the Lake, on the island known as Avalon. With her brother and the mage Merlin, she grew up in the closest thing the Fey know to a family. She prowls the forests, stealing food and clothing from Humans while they sleep, playing tricks on those who venture too near. With her best friend Elana, she serves in the Children's Guard and prepares for the next Moon Dance.

Nivienne has friends who have been drawn into the world of the Humans, but she never imagines leaving her beloved forest for the smell and chaos of the outside. All that changes, however, the day Gwenevere enters the forest. Stolen away by Nivienne's friend, Gwen knows her husband Arthur will not stop until he finds her. Merlin's plan to return her unharmed to her husband includes Nivienne's brother Lugh's acting as her escort - and much more than that.

Years later, when Lugh's relationship with Gwen threatens to bring down Arthur's kingdom, Merlin enlists Nivienne's help to enter the Human world and try to repair the damage that has been done. However, Merlin does not know that Arthur and Nivienne have met before, and their rekindled relationship is just as great a danger to his carefully laid plans. As Nivienne treads the careful line between two worlds, she learns more and more about the tragic consequences of love and deception - and, perhaps, about forgiveness.

While this book will have wide appeal for the many fans of the great Arthurian legends, it might not be a completely satisfying experience for all readers. Because the novel covers a significant portion of time, many details and characters are mostly just skimmed, potentially leaving readers familiar with the legends feeling like something has been left out. In addition, Crompton's narrative style is somewhat dreamy, and while this suits the unique mind of her heroine, it does at times make the story seem incomplete.

However, there is much in the novel to enjoy. Nivienne is a strong and capable heroine, whose narration allows readers to view this well-known story through fresh eyes. The beloved characters are all present, and while some have new names - Nimue becomes Nimway, Elaine becomes Elana, Excalibur becomes Caliburn - all are recognizable, but also transformed by this unique take on the story. Merlin's Harp is an interesting and appealing novel, sure to be welcomed by many as another compelling chapter in Arthur's story.

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