“It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it.”
“… all this seemed to rush together into a point of powerful magic, happiness striking like an arrow, with one of those sudden shocks of joy that are so physical, so preceisely marked, that one knows the exact moment at which the world changed.”
Sometimes, while reading certain passages in The Moonspinners this time around, I got the impression that Mary Stewart was already, in 1961-1962, working on what I consider her masterpiece, The Crystal Cave.
This is the kind of writing that holds me spellbound in that later book, and it’s typically a point of interest in any of her romantic suspense novels, when it occurs.
The two passages quoted above are the opening line of the novel, and part of the closing two pages of Chapter 1 of The Moonspinners, bringing the reader full circle from the first line, through what by any other author would have been a dull information dump, tiresome to read although revealing, but in Stewart’s hands simply carried one through to the sight of that egret. Both passages grab me every time, to carry me easily into the story. Now I wish I could read the last two pages of that chapter aloud to anyone who will listen, and by doing so pursuade them to read the book. In fact, all of her books.
Need I even say that Mary Stewart is my all-time favorite author? I’ve been reading and rereading her books for more than 50 years. And yet, each time I pick one up, it’s an old friend but with something new to say. We begin a new conversation on a familiar topic, and I experience something fresh and delightful each and every time, and remember why I love them.
Stewart didn’t just tell stories. I believe almost any literate person with some imagination can do that on paper, with varying degrees of success. Mary Stewart cast spells. She performed magic with words, in a way that made her stand out among the romantic suspense authors of her day, and there were many outstanding ones, and went even further with her Arthurian series.
I’m struck, reading The Moonspinners this time around, by the youth of the protagonist, Nicola Ferris, who at twenty-two has been working for the British Embassy in Athens for just over a year when she arranges to meet her older cousin on Crete, and once there finds herself with one entire free day before anyone expects her anywhere. Stewart had a special flair portraying young people, particularly teenagers, which we find here as well when we meet Colin. But the protagonist herself makes me feel young again when I read how the story begins. She’s at that age I remember well, with a kind of innocent, electric curiosity and sense of wonder that drives her, from the sight of that egret, off onto another path, one that seems to be both accidental and destined at once. Straight into adventure.