Monday, 7 December 2009

The Stone Crown by Malcolm Walker


November 2009, Walker Books
512 pages, Paperback
Review Copy

YA, Fantasy

Cushions: 3
Daggers: 1
Paperclips: 1 for some coarse language
Tissues: 2
Yunaleska's recommended rating: 5 hearts

Summary from Walker Books:
Emlyn and Maxine are both newcomers, both misfits in their own way. But their lives are linked and their paths destined to cross in ways that neither can begin to imagine. Drawn to the ancient site known as Sleeper’s Spinney, Emlyn and Maxine unleash an unearthly power when they unwittingly remove one of a group of wooden horsemen hidden beneath the earth. Containing the trapped spirits of Arthur and his men, the carvings have been held in check since the Dark Ages by a long line of Keepers, the McCrossans. With the Keepers prepared to stop at nothing to recover what has been stolen, Emlyn and Maxine are drawn into a parallel world of myth, magic and the supernatural. Arthur is awake – and he is no revered, grey-bearded king come back to save the Isles. Its thrilling climax sees a race against time as Emlyn and Maxine try to destroy the figures before Arthur and his guard are let loose and released into the world of twenty-first century Scotland.

The legend of Arthur and Merlin are currently in fashion at the moment. Unlike the BBC1 Merlin drama, Merlin and Arthur are rather dark characters in The Stone Crown. They don't appear very often, just a few chapters every now and then told by Arthur's master-of-arms Clei, more as the ending is reached. Although their story was interesting, I have to admit I could have happily skipped the chapters with Arthur in them. I think this is because somehow I had expected more interaction from Arthur and Merlin with Emlyn and Maxine.

Neither Emlyn or Maxine have an easy life. With his mother away working, and his father in a mental hospital, Emlyn tests his sister's patience on a regular basis. He lives with the constant fear that he might end up mad too. This fear is well justified, for there are forces at work that make him see things which others can't, scary things which Maxine does eventually catch a glimpse of.

Maxine is the practical girl with a vendetta against a local family (for good reason), a passion for motorbikes (which comes in handy), and a family history which unravels as she and Emlyn set out to change history. I love how a girl with Maxine's character is the one to fulfil a prophecy regarding the statues. She definitely has spirit, which is needed when she and Emlyn come up against the McCrossans. The McCrossans are wicked - they'll hurt anything to get back at people who cross them. Emlyn experiences their cruelty first hand. And yet despite this, the McCrossans have a large role to play in the returning of the statues.

I think one of the big themes of this book is conflict, both internal and external. Maxine and Emlyn both have their own personal demons to fight. Then there are the large ghost like apparitions who are chasing after the statue they hold. And the McCrossans who want the statue back. It is through the large foes that Emlyn and Maxine are able to cope (eventually) with their inner demons.

There were plenty edge-of-the-seat moments and a few which needed tissues. The plot twists were hard to spot and had me surprised when they appeared. The ending is more than satisfactory, and part of me hopes that there might be a sequel. I think there is room for more tales of Emlyn and Maxine.

More on Malcolm Walker can be found on his website.

Liked this? Try a different view on Merlin and Arthur in the BBC1 tie-in books Merlin: The Dragon's Call by Various