When I started this one, Hubby commented that it was his favorite of the trilogy, mostly because Merlin goes traveling across Europe. While I liked Crystal Cave because I liked the Merlin that Stewart created, I liked this one primarily because this is my favorite part of the Arthurian legend. That, and Merlin goes a-traveling, which is always fun, too.
The Hollow Hills picks up right after the fateful night of Arthur’s conception, with Merlin limping back to his home in the cave in Wales. He’s servant-less for a while (which was mildly amusing; Merlin is just incapable of taking care of himself), but eventually gains a reluctant servant in Ralf, when he’s banished from the King’s (and by now Queen’s) presence, mostly for his role in that fateful night. Eventually, the Queen (and King) call Merlin to them and ask him for his help in taking care of Arthur and making sure Arthur is safe. Merlin, of course, makes the arrangements, and then, possibly to add mystery to the tale and most definitely to misdirect his (and Arthur’s) enemies, he takes off for the mainland of Europe, traveling to all the big cities. It’s not a large part of the novel, but it is an enjoyable one.
Once he deems it safe — well, actually because King Uther is dying and Merlin is who he is — Merlin heads back to Britain. He takes up residence in the Wild Forest, near where Arthur is being fostered, and takes over the mentoring of Arthur. I love this part; basically the last third of the book when Arthur himself enters the story. It’s the stuff legends are made of (well, duh): a strong-willed, energetic boy, learning all he can from an older, wiser man and then that boy somehow making himself worthy to become what he truly is… a King.
I did have some quibbles with this one, most notably with Morgause. I think I like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s treatment of the women better (as well I should, since Mists of Avalon is a pretty feminist-slanted work). While I recognize that Stewart was trying to be as faithful to history, giving men all the “power” and shunting the women off to the side (Merlin’s mother, Ninane wasn’t terribly well portrayed, though she wasn’t as weak as Ygraine), it still grated on me how Morgause, from pretty much the get-go was portrayed as a power-hungry, evil woman. Perhaps she was. (Perhaps she didn’t even exist.) But, I prefer Bradley’s interpretation of the women.
Aside from that (and that’s really only the last chapters), it’s a thoroughly enjoyable book. I still like Merlin as a character, and I think Stewart’s aging him nicely. I like that his character feels different in this book than he did in the last one: more mature, weightier, as he comes into the power and reason for existing that he’s been waiting for his whole life. He’s still portrayed as an imperfect human, but she draws more heavily on the prophecy and Sight aspects of Merlin’s character. Because of this, he’s beginning to take on the role that he’s known for best: that of Arthur’s right-hand, as well as prophet and enchanter. Even with all this, though, Merlin’s still a sympathetic character, as well as an understandable one.
Only one more book to go.