KEVIN CROSSLEY-HOLLAND has long been fascinated by the Arthurian legends. A decade ago, he wrote a set of radio plays around the character of Sir Thomas Malory, the 15th-century author of the Morte Darthur, the greatest of all retellings in English of the knights of the Round Table. And for the last six years or more he has been writing the trilogy of which Arthur: King of the Middle March is the final part.
If you have read the first two books, you will already know what's happening. The story in the foreground is set around 1200, in a medieval world so real that you can smell, touch and see it. Its hero is Arthur de Gortanore, a young squire who lives in the Welsh borders and is fired with passionate idealism to become a knight and join a crusade to Jerusalem.
First he has to learn a good many lessons. Some are practical (how to handle a sword and ride a destrier, how to manage his lord's manorial tenants). Some are moral (what is true justice? How do you know if you really love somebody? Can Saracens be better men than Christians?).
Arthur gets insight not only from his experiences, relatives and companions, but from the visions he sees in a magical stone which works as a window into the world of the legendary King Arthur. He was given the stone by Merlin, who is both alive in the Middle March and trapped by Nimue's spell in the legendary world of Camelot. Some of the stories (Lancelot's love for Guinevere, Mordred's betrayal of Arthur) are familiar; others are little-known.
The third book may …