With summer fading into autumn and the nights gradually drawing in, many readers will be on the lookout for some enchanting escapism to get them through the drizzly days and chilly nights. I would strongly encourage these readers to grab hold of their favourite, cosiest blanket, pour themselves a nice hot cup of tea and pick up a Mary Stewart.
Mary Stewart is known for her romantic suspense novels, which were best-sellers when first published. Beginning with Madam, Will You Talk in 1955, these books typically feature compelling mysteries with a pinch of romance for good measure.
There is something a bit special about Stewart’s novels; they wield a certain magic. Often set in foreign, occasionally exotic, lands – Damascus, the Greek islands, Spain, France, Austria – these stories transport their readers into another world. This is escapist fiction at its best.
And better yet, Stewart’s heroines are often delightfully intelligent, level-headed and quick with the witty one-liner. Her very first protagonist, Charity from Madam, Will You Talk, is a bona fide Stewart heroine: glamorous, cool under pressure and with serious racing driving skills.
Start with any Mary Stewart novel and you won’t go far wrong but I would, if I may, steer you in the direction of one of the fan favourites first: My Brother Michael, Nine Coaches Waiting, or The Moonspinners (later turned into a Disney film starring Hayley Mills and well worth a watch) perhaps.
Stewart is also well-known for a series of Arthurian novels. This sequence focuses on the wizard, Merlin, and strips back the usual fantasy elements so that they read more like historical novels. This is the Merlin of the original Welsh legend, rather than the version popularized by the French chivalric tradition. If you’re interested in Stewart’s take on Merlin and Arthur, start with The Crystal Cave (1970).
Mary Stewart, who died in May 2014, was born in Sunderland, just down the road from me. I thus take a particular pride in the talents of this local author. Her beautifully written, captivating novels offer peerless entertainment and escapism.
Already a fan of Mary Stewart? Which of her novels would you recommend to new readers? Let me know in the comments.