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The Wicked Day (1983)

by Mary Stewart

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Arthurian Merlin Saga (4)

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2,617194,978 (3.84)1 / 68
Far from being the scourge of Arthur, his bastard son Mordred actually strives to resist Merlin's prophecy of doom. But he is thwarted by the schemes of his sorceress mother, Queen Morgause, who has brough him up to be her revenge incarnate, and by misunderstandings beyond his control. Prophecy triumphs, and the confrontation that is as fatal as it is inevitable is played out against the darkened walls of the city of Camelot.… (more)

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English (18)  Italian (1)  All languages (19)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
4.5 stars
“The wicked day of destiny,” as Malory calls it, is the day when Arthur’s final battle was fought at Camlann. In this battle, we are told, “Arthur and Medraut fell.” (from the author’s notes provided at the end of this book).

This is what we know of Mordred, and the subsequent legend has painted him to be a cunning and selfish bastard, who rose against his father, Arthur, and in an attempt to seize his kingdom brought them both low. What if he were none of those things? What if he were caught in this destiny foretold by Merlin in the same way that Arthur is caught in it? What if he were a man with faults and strengths? This, indeed, is the logical truth of this story, and this is Mordred Mary Stewart gives us.

In The Wicked Day, Stewart does for Mordred what she did for Merlin in the trilogy, she humanizes him. She is so skilled at opening up a legend and finding a man, at filling the gaps of the story in a way that make you nod your head and agree, “it might have been like this,” that she takes my breath away.

I am always tempted to say that this novel does not achieve the heights of the trilogy, but that is because I am too enamoured of Merlin, whose character touches the very soul of me. An unfair comparison, because Mordred is not Merlin and his story cannot ever offer the same kind of richness, no matter whose hands you might put it into. What Stewart is able to do with this novel is every bit as amazing, for she turns a legend on its head without deviating from its particulars one iota.

When Arthur fathers Mordred, Merlin tells him he has simply set the lengths of his life and the time of his death. But those are things that come to all men. Life and death are always planted in the same seed, we mortals just fail to look at it that way. When Mordred seeks to find Merlin and undo the curse he feels is upon him, this is what he finds:

”What he had seen as a cursed fate, foreseen with grief by Merlin and twisted into evil by Morgause, dwindled in this world of clear water and lighted mist into its proper form. It was not even a curse. It was a fact, something due to happen in the future, that had been seen by an eye doomed to foresee, whatever the pain of that Seeing. It would come, yes, but only as, soon or late, all deaths came. He, Mordred, was not the instrument of a blind and brutal fate, but of whatever, whoever, made the pattern to which the world moved. Live what life brings; die what death comes. He did not see the comfort even as cold.”

The trick in life might be to live the life we are given as completely and as well as we can, and what others may say about us when we are gone may not matter as much as we think it does.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Continuation of the series. There's technically one more, but this already felt somewhat like an add-on as Merlin retired at the end of the last book. One of Merlin's first pieces of advise to Arthur was to leave Morguesse's child alive. The child gets named Modred, and this is his story. The change in voice form the previous trilogy works well, and it's interesting to find some of the other details the author has managed to unearth. However Modred's voice isn't that different from Merlin, he's very introspective , slow to action and not particularly concerned about public opinion. Finally we get one (solitary) adventure of the Knights of the Round Table.

Modred's tale starts as a young boy in the Orkney Isles where Morguesse has hidden him fostered to a childless couple. He's learnt fishing and lives in a peat croft. By chance, and unaware, he aids one of Morguesse's legitimate children Prince to the isles. Morguesse takes the opportunity to bring him more publicly into court, and in due course (when she's summoned to camalot to account for Merlin's first poisoning) to Arthur's attention. Arthur can't resist including his only natural son into his court and so in due course as he grows Modred gains ever more responsibility.

I've come across the fable of the asp several times, and it didn't seem to fit in very well here, although obviously the author needed sometime dramatic to set Arthur and Modred that badly at odds after most the book having their ever closer relationship. I wasn't convinced by the series of coincidences and mishaps required to bring about the eventual wicked day. Morgan and Morgusee just seem to fade away and never quite gain the depth attributed to them in other tellings of the legends. The one tale of teh Knights is an almost incidental inclusion of the Green Giant set for no reason in Brittany. Sadly it didn't add anything to the book except pages, and none fo the other Knights seemed to feature very much. This is a much less complex story than the previous three. ( )
  reading_fox | Sep 23, 2021 |
Mordred is brought to court and circumstances beyond control lead to final battle
  ritaer | Jun 6, 2021 |
hb ( )
  5083mitzi | Apr 4, 2021 |
Holy moly this was bad. I lost any sense of interest in this book about 1/3 of the way through. I think that Stewart did the best she could. She wanted to keep the legend of Arthur and his Round Table on point as much as possible. However, the characterizations in this whole book were off for me. Arthur pretty much is not that smart. Mordred is just misunderstood. And Guinevere is not bright at all, and is only wanted by every man it seems due to her beauty. I don't read any of Marion Zimmer Bradley's books anymore, but I still like her look at the King Arthur legend much better than this series because she ties things up a lot better by looking at the growing conflict between the pagan religions and the growing spread of Christianity. She also managed to make every woman and man in the story three dimensional.

The Wicked Day follows a lot of Mallory's story about the final days of Camelot. Unlike with previous books I just found myself bored since I have read the poems and other books about it. I was hoping for a different spin, but besides a few details that Stewart changes here and there, everything is the same.

I think the thing that threw me a lot though is that this book was more detached than the other three. I think not having Merlin as a narrator in this one hurt the book. I didn't get a true sense of anyone this time through. As I already said, everyone felt very one dimensional to me. No one had a brain in their head either. Morgause and others who have been causing problems in the last two books are pretty much done away or put aside in a few sentences or two.

I think the ending was supposed to have me feel pity for Mordred, but I didn't. We just have him laying with a fatal wound knowing that his father was being taken away to be healed. Considering that he was doing what he could to be crowned king and to take Guinevere as his wife I felt meh towards the guy. I think what gets me is that Mordred falls in "love" with Guinevere and Stewart makes it that he is doing everything he can to have her. I hate story-lines that have it that some poor man had his head turned by a woman and if not for that maybe Mordred could have been a good person. ( )
  ObsidianBlue | Jul 1, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mary Stewartprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kossodo, HelmutTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thiemeyer, ThomasCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To George Haddington with deep affection.
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"Merlin is dead."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Far from being the scourge of Arthur, his bastard son Mordred actually strives to resist Merlin's prophecy of doom. But he is thwarted by the schemes of his sorceress mother, Queen Morgause, who has brough him up to be her revenge incarnate, and by misunderstandings beyond his control. Prophecy triumphs, and the confrontation that is as fatal as it is inevitable is played out against the darkened walls of the city of Camelot.

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