Book: The Seeing Stone

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The Seeing Stone

Series: Book 1 of Arthur Trilogy
Author: Kevin Crossley-Holland
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

It is 1199 and young Arthur de Caldicot is waiting impatiently to grow up and become a knight. One day his friend’s father, Merlin, gives him a shining piece of obsidian, and his life becomes entwined with that of his namesake, the Arthur whose story he sees unfold in the stone.

In this many-layered novel, King Arthur is seen as a mysterious presence influencing not just one time and place, but many. The 100 short chapters are almost like snapshots, not only of the mythic tales of King Arthur, but the earthy, uncomfortable reality of the Middle Ages. Written in the direct, open voice of a real boy living in a time of uncertainty about the future, this story touches on the issues of war and peace, social inequity, religion, reason, and superstition.


“Tumber Hill! It’s my clamber-and-tumble-and-beech-and-bramble hill! Sometimes, when I’m standing on the top, I fill my lungs with air and I shout. I shout.”

As The Seeing Stone opens, exuberant young Arthur has no idea what adventure lies ahead. A 13-year-old growing up in 12th-century England, Arthur soon discovers that his life parallels that of another Arthur, son of Uther centuries past, the legendary boy king “who was and will be.” The second son of Sir John de Caldicot, lord of a manor near the Welsh border, Arthur narrates his everyday life in the Marchland in 100 clipped chapters of crisp, melodic prose. But his destiny entwined with that other, ancient Arthur is revealed only in snatches, after he receives (courtesy of our old friend Merlin) a piece of obsidian, a seeing stone, through which a well-woven story within a story unfolds.

But rather than the fantasy of T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, Kevin Crossley-Holland offers a convincing and meticulously researched account of what life might have actually been like for a curious, capable, earnest young man in this peculiar time and place, with all its customs, rituals, and regimented routine and social structure. In a well-paced story that alternates between drama, comedy, and even a little mystery, Arthur tackles some surprisingly sophisticated topics, whether he’s questioning the pompous priest Oliver (is the poverty on the manor truly part of God’s will?), pestering his father over his plans for him (will he become a squire, as he wishes, or a monk or priest or school man?), or just contemplating his place in the scheme of things under the blue sky atop Tumber Hill. The Seeing Stone is a fun, involving read for kids, but will hold grownup attentions, too, with its flowing language, dense period detail, and all the questions that it asks—and doesn’t always answer. (Ages 9 to 12) —Paul Hughes

Barnes and Noble

Kevin Crossley-Holland spins an enchanting tale of magic and mystery in The Seeing Stone, the first book in a planned trilogy based on Arthurian legend. The story opens at the cusp of the 12th and 13th centuries, when a 13-year-old lad named Arthur discovers that his life is about to take some unexpected turns. At the heart of all this change is Merlin, a mysterious man who possesses incredible knowledge and power. It is Merlin’s special gift to young Arthur—a shiny piece of obsidian—that gives this book its name and much of its magic.

All that young Arthur can think about is his desire to become a squire and, eventually, a knight, a goal his father seems determined to prevent him from reaching. At first, the only thing Arthur has to feed his dream are his hopes and his imagination, which are often tempered by the harsh realities of life. But then his mentor, Merlin, gives him a shiny stone, uttering a cryptic message about its power. When Arthur looks into the dark surface of the stone, images appear—snippets of past events from other people’s lives, including a powerful King named Uther and a young knight named Arthur. When certain aspects of young Arthur’s life begin to parallel those of his namesake in the seeing stone, he begins to wonder if the images might not be a glimpse of the future rather than the past. Arthur’s quest for the truth answers some of his questions but also raises plenty of others, no doubt as a lead-in to the second chapter in this trilogy.

This is no fluffy tale of Camelot. Arthur tackles a number of provocative issues in his dealings with others, and his observations provide a grim but realistic commentary on the filth, hunger, and barbarism that was a regular part of life in the Middle Ages. But the book’s overall structure—told from Arthur’s point of view in 100 very short chapters—and its mystical overtones make The Seeing Stone a quick and engaging read. (Beth Amos)

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