TBR Challenge: The Late, Great Mary Stewart

1967 cover image of The Gabriel Hounds by Mary StewardI bought this book last year at a charity sale in aid of the reconstruction of a Thomas Telford church in Ullapool, Scotland. I have never read anything by Mary Stewart except her Merlin books, which I read and loved in high school and college, so I bought this to try her Gothic/romantic suspense writing. I pulled it out when Ms. Stewart died in May, and this month I was home enough to actually read a printed book.

I don’t really worry about spoilers for a book published 47 years ago, but I won’t give too many details. I went into the book knowing nothing about the plot, and that was definitely part of its charm. I will say that it’s a romance with a happy ending, though.

The novel takes place in the Middle East, mostly in Lebanon. Our protagonist is Christy Mansel, an English heiress whose family lives in the USA. She comes on a package tour, but plans to stay on in Beirut a few extra days on her own. While in Damascus with the tour, she encounters her cousin Charles, who is in the area on business but has also been hoping to see her. Charles reminds Christy that they have an eccentric great-aunt who lives near Beirut in an old palace, seeing herself as a modern version of Lady Hester Stanhope. They plan to visit her together, but when Charles is delayed by business, Christy finds herself visiting the palace alone.

The emir’s palace is a good, spooky setting. There are mysterious and suspicious events that make Christy (and later Charles) worried about their relative, and they get caught up in dangerous activities trying to figure it all out. While some elements of the mystery seemed really obvious to me, the book was still enjoyable to read. I gather this is a hallmark of Gothic novels, that they may have elements of self-parody and melodrama that make some aspects of the plot seem obvious.

Christy is a great narrator. She is smart and funny, and brave when she needs to be, but she’s also a bit vain, selfish and, as she herself says early in the book, “rather spoiled.” Her commentary on other people, as well as herself, brings the book to life. The descriptions of scenery and events are engrossing, and it’s to Stewart’s credit that her eloquent descriptions sound believable coming from Christy.

Who else has read non-Arthurian Stewart? What are your favorite titles?


14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. quilterphyl
    Aug 20, 2014 @ 06:06:26

    I remember this one! I read and re-read Stewart’s gothics as a teen/young adult. My favorites were This Rough Magic and Nine Coaches waiting. I’ve never read her Arthurian books. although I’ve always meant to. Numerous friends have recommended them.


  2. Keishon
    Aug 20, 2014 @ 07:04:27

    I’ve read Airs Above the Ground and Nine Coaches Waiting. Both I enjoyed but Airs I love because that’s the one I started with and it’s still a favorite of mine. I’ve heard her Arthurian books are good. Problem is that I’m not interested. Maybe one day….


  3. sandraschwab
    Aug 20, 2014 @ 07:10:15

    Mary Stewart is a bit of a hit and miss with me, but I loved, loved, loved Madam, Will You Talk? (I was surprised how very well it has aged) and The Wind off the Small Isles (which I bought because the copy I got once belonged to a friend of Dorothy Dunnett’s and the book came with a dedication by and letter from Dunnett to that friend)

    I’ve never read Stewart’s Arthurian books, and I’m afraid I’ve had my fill of Arthurian novels (they’re just too depressing when you already know the outcome of the story).


    • sonomalass
      Aug 20, 2014 @ 09:15:05

      It’s funny, but it’s only because I know the ending that I can handle the drama and sadness that attend the Arthur mythos. The different ways to configure the story, and to attach motive and blame, fascinate me. I love The Mists of Avalon because it gives women so much agency, and I will forever be grateful to Guy Gavriel Kay for giving Arthur his HEA in the Fionavar Tapestry.


  4. laurakcurtis
    Aug 20, 2014 @ 07:10:28

    It’s so funny to see this — just the other day on a bookish meme (http://www.laurakcurtis.com/blog/2014/08/bookish-meme/), I mentioned that I had discovered the Gothic genre because I was such a fan of Stewart’s Arthurian books that I immediately went out to find out what else she’d written.

    I don’t remember The Gabriel Hounds, though your description sounds vaguely familiar. I remember This Rough Magic, Nine Coaches Waiting, Touch Not The Cat, and The Moon-Spinners. I *think* my favorite is probably Touch Not the Cat…but the whole genre was a revelation to me.


  5. sonomalass
    Aug 20, 2014 @ 09:11:58

    I knew everyone else had read this book; thanks all for the recommendations of other titles.


  6. Barb in Maryland
    Aug 20, 2014 @ 11:14:46

    I first read The Moonspinners(as a teen) the year it came out (why, yes, I AM older than dirt) and fell in love. I quickly read her backlist and then every new book as it came out. By the time her Merlin books came out, I was already burned out on the Arthurian bit, so I was not as enchanted as some.
    I think my favorite (today, but it may be different new week) is The Ivy Tree. About the only one of her early books that didn’t work for me is Thunder on the Right.

    One thing I love about re-reading Gabriel Hounds is the look at that part of the world before everything went ‘Kaboom!’. It seems a whole ‘nother world, now.


  7. Miss Bates
    Aug 20, 2014 @ 19:14:10

    I read Mary Stewart for the first time this year, yes, like you, right after reading about her death. I read MADAM, WILL YOU TALK?, her first book, and absolutely loved it. Though written in the 1950s (53? Barb above would know) her heroine was self-possessed and independent and smart and bookish: what could be better? I’m reading WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT now. I want to read them ALL!


  8. sonomalass
    Aug 20, 2014 @ 20:11:47

    I feel like I’ve joined a club! I love when an author’s work passes the test of time.


  9. helenajust
    Aug 21, 2014 @ 02:43:12

    I am very fond of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels, and re-read them all frequently. It’s difficult to chose favourites, but I think Madam, Will You Talk? and Nine Coaches Waiting just head a few others.

    One of the things I love about the books is the sense of place she achieves, which makes me want to go and explore them. I’m sure I liked Crete and Corfu even more than I would have done anyway because of The Moonspinners and This Rough Magic. I re-read The Gabriel Hounds before travelling to the Middle East, and (with Colin Thubron’s wonderful Mirror to Damascus and The Hills of Adonis) it helped me to see the amazing place it must have been before the expansion and changes in the region.

    I do like The Ivy Tree, mentioned by Barb, partly because Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar is one of my all-time favourite books. And Touch Not the Cat is also very good! But if you want recommendations for the next Stewart to read, I would go with her earlier books, MWYT or NCW especially.


  10. Miranda Neville
    Aug 22, 2014 @ 08:48:12

    If you want to read more Mary Stewart, I recommend This Rough Magic. IMO it’s the most romancey of her books. The heroine is an actress and fascinated by the glorious setting of Corfu because it’s supposed to be the inspiration for The Tempest. Should be right up your alley 🙂


  11. sonomalass
    Aug 22, 2014 @ 17:41:07

    If you haven’t read Jayne’s review at Dear Author, you should:

    There’s the discussion about the romance that I avoided because of spoilers.


  12. boom222
    Sep 12, 2014 @ 03:24:54

    สวย !


    . . . .

    กรุณา แจ้งให้เราทราบ


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