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The Wicked Day by Mary Stewart
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The Wicked Day (1983)

by Mary Stewart

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2,252164,095 (3.83)1 / 62

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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.
( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
Fantastic finale to Stewart's Arthurian saga. Mary Stewart's take that Mordred was basically good and that events forced destiny's hand is an interesting point of view and makes for exciting reading.

The characters are fleshed out, the events believable. Terrific series and well worth reading. ( )
  bhuesers | Mar 29, 2017 |
Set in Britain in the latter part of King Arthur’s reign, approximately the early sixth century, The Wicked Day tells Mordred’s story. The major characters are familiar figures from the legend: Mordred, Arthur, Guinevere, Bedwyr, Arthur’s half-sisters Morgause and Morgan, Morgause’s Orkney sons Gawain, Gaheris, Agravaine and Gareth, and Merlin’s successor Nimue. Some secondary characters, such as Morgause’s lover Gabran, the goldsmith and his slave/spy, and Mordred’s foster parents, are fictional. The story follows on from Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, but is not part of it.

Mordred is Arthur’s illegitimate son and nephew, the result of Arthur’s brief incestuous liaison with his half-sister Morgause. Merlin the enchanter prophesied that Mordred would be Arthur’s downfall (see the Merlin trilogy for this part of the story), and Morgause has raised Mordred in secret on the remote Orkney islands, waiting for the day when she can use Mordred to destroy her hated half-brother. When Mordred discovers his parentage, he loves and respects Arthur as both father and king. He defies his mother’s schemes and vows to serve Arthur faithfully – but Fate may not be so easily denied.

The story is told in third person mainly from Mordred’s point of view. Mary Stewart notes that she wanted to add some “saving greys” to the traditional portrait of Mordred the black villain, and I would say she has gone further than this and created him as a complex and fascinating character. Mordred is intelligent, ambitious, resourceful, quick-thinking and honourable. He is eager for power, cool in a crisis, self-contained, analytical and rather cold-blooded, a sharp contrast to his volatile and violent Orkney half-brothers. Although Mordred is attracted to Queen Guinevere, this seems to be something of an adolescent crush and isn’t reciprocated. It would be hard to imagine this rational and self-controlled Mordred falling head over heels in love with anyone; he is much more interested in running the country. Mordred has qualities that could have made him a worthy successor to Arthur, and his death at the ill-fated battle of Camlann is no less a tragedy than Arthur’s.

Mordred is the central character, and because he is not overly concerned with putting himself inside the skin of others, he dominates the book. The other characters are secondary, though they are still drawn as distinct individuals. Apart from the villainous Morgause, most of the characters are a mix of good and bad qualities. As with the Merlin trilogy, the novel is beautifully written, and the poetic descriptions of landscape and wildlife are especially vivid.
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
I registered a book at BookCrossing.com!
http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/12415215
  JosieRivers | Dec 28, 2014 |
"Merlin is dead." And more's the pity. The book takes the saga to its logical and traditional conclusion, but somehow it does not have the same impact as the first books. ( )
  MissWatson | Apr 22, 2013 |
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To George Haddington with deep affection.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060548282, Paperback)

Born of an incestuous relationship between King Arthur and his half sister, the evil sorceress Morgause, the bastard Mordred is reared in secrecy. Called to Camelot by events he cannot deny, Mordred becomes Arthur’s most trusted counselor -- a fateful act that leads to the "wicked day of destiny" when father and son must face each other in battle.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:03 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Born of an incestuous relationship between King Arthur and his half sister, the evil sorceress Morgause, the bastard Mordred is reared in secrecy. Called to Camelot by events he cannot deny, Mordred becomes Arthur's most trusted counselor -- a fateful act that leads to the "wicked day of destiny" when father and son must face each other in battle.… (more)

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