`The Seeing Stone' is a children's novel, and as such, has extremely short chapters, sometimes only 1 page long in places. The way it is written is from Arthur's point of view, and the broken up chapters, that sometimes don't seem to link together, feel almost like diary entries. Although this book is set in 1199, the language used isn't old fashioned but there are objects that they use that aren't really around today. In my copy of the book, there is a definitions page though so this helps a lot, and also there is a character list, with who each character is detailed clearly. The writing style annoyed me slightly in that there were a lot of exclamation points that weren't always necessary, and it made the language sound quite immature.
Reading this I had a few problems in that the characters don't seem to sound their ages. For instance, because Arthur is only thirteen and he is the narrator, it feels almost as if all of the other characters are also his age, which isn't the case.
I really liked the fast-paced nature of this book, helped by the short chapters and the medieval style illustrations that were in my copy really helped set the scene for the story. The inclusion of Welsh words was really well done and I think this is possibly one of the reasons I used to like these books so much, as when I was originally reading this about ten years ago, I was learning Welsh.
After about halfway, I found that I was losing interest in this book. The way it is written is obvious that it is a series and not a standalone book because things happen very slowly and the alternating narrative got a little distracting, to the point where I much preferred one point of view over the other. Some of the mysteries became very predictable and I was forcing myself to keep reading.
Another thing that annoyed me with this book was the dominance of religion in the story. I understand that in 1199 this would have been how people were, and I have nothing against religion,though I am not religious myself, but I found that sometimes it took over from the storyline and some of the other themes weren't explored to their full potential.
Near the end, the story seemed to pick up and although the events were quite predictable, it was actually enjoyable by the end. I think this would be great for younger readers but it didn't really draw me in enough so I won't be rereading the rest of the series.
Winner of the 2001 Guardian Children's Fiction Award and shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread Children's Book of the Year, "The Seeing Stone" is the first instalment in Kevin Crossley-Holland's Arthur trilogy. Set on the Welsh borders in the closing months of the twelfth century, it tells the tale of thirteen-year-old Arthur de Caldicot, the second son of a minor English lord, who dreams of entering service as a squire and ultimately becoming a knight. When he is given a mysterious obsidian stone by the wise man of the village, he soon discovers its magic as he is shown the story of his namesake, the King Arthur of legend, whose life in many ways mirrors his own.
The novel takes the form of a diary written by Arthur, and is told over the course of 100 short chapters, some as long as a dozen pages, others as short as half a page. The spirit of the middle ages, including all the small details of life in Caldicot, is expertly captured: from Arthur's yard-skills of sword-play, jousting and archery to the workings of the manorial court, where justice is dispensed; and from the frivolities of Halloween and Christmas to the more gritty realities of medieval life. Crossley-Holland is not afraid to address difficult issues, such as divisions of class and wealth in society, and Arthur's comfortable life is often contrasted with the impoverished existence of Gatty, the reeve's daughter. Though the two are portrayed as best friends, their different circumstances make it impossible for either to fully understand the other, and consequently there remains a distance between them that can never be crossed.
Many other supporting characters flesh out this landscape, offering Arthur direction as he searches to understand the world he lives in, and find his own place in it. Two in particular stand out: the bookish priest Oliver, directed by his Christian learning; and Arthur's ancient grandmother, Nain, whose wisdom stems from the tales and folklore of her Welsh ancestors. It is through this vibrant mix of different cultures, stories and traditions that the author really brings the period to life, and is able to captivate the reader.
"The Seeing Stone" is a true crossover novel - intended primarily for children but equally educational and engaging for adults as well - which draws elements of fantasy into a brilliantly realised medieval world. The book is dotted with illustrations taken from contemporary medieval sources, and is supplemented by two endpaper maps depicting in lavish detail the manor of Caldicot and its environs, both drawn by Hemesh Alles. The paperback also contains the first two chapters of the sequel, "At the Crossing-Places", as a taster.