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Arthur: The Seeing Stone    by Kevin Crossley-Holland order for
by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Order:  USA  Can
Orion, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Young Arthur's home is a medieval Manor in the Welsh Marshes at the cusp of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Each of the sixty people who live in and around Caldicot has their place. Arthur, second son of the lord of the manor, often gets in trouble for helping Gatty, (the reeve's daughter and his friend) with her chores, which are considered unsuitable for one of his station. He's a bright, enquiring boy, full of questions about everything around him. Arthur loves books and learning but dreams of becoming a squire and eventually a knight. He worries about injustice.

The priest Oliver tutors Arthur with conventional wisdom, and the boy finds learning new things to be 'like climbing Tumber Hill inside my own head: the further I go, the more I see; and the more I see, the more I want to see.' Merlin, a mysterious friend of Arthur's father, pops in and out of his life, answering question with more questions. Merlin tells him about the king who was and 'will be', explains crossing-places, and gives Arthur a precious and secret obsidian stone, that yields visions of dragons and kings. According to Merlin many questions 'are like nutshells - with their nuts still inside them' and knowledge is 'dry as dead leaves; it's no use at all unless you're ready for it.'

Arthur learns a secret from his young aunt Alice; discovers that he has three sorrows, three fears and three joys; worries about his protuberant tailbone and his bullying brother; and participates in daily manor life, which is sketched in fascinating detail. He wonders at the visions that appear in his obsidian showing his namesake's birth, upbringing with Sir Ector and Kay, and Arthur-in-the-stone's eventual encounter with the sword. Then comes a special Christmastide, 'the one and only stopping-place in the long dance of the year', when the turn of a new century brings big changes to Arthur's life and self-knowledge. The hooded man once told Arthur that everyone 'needs a quest ... a dream to light our way through this dark world'. Now Arthur's quest begins.

The Seeing Stone makes a thoughtful and thrilling start to Crossley-Holland's trilogy of medieval fantasy. My thirteen year old son and I both enjoyed it very much and look forward to the sequels, At the Crossing-Places and King of the Middle March.

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