Merlin’s Harp by Anne Eliot Crompton is a retelling of the legend of King Arthur and his times from the perspective of Niviene, daughter of the Lady of the Lake, known to Niviene as Nimway. They live on Apple Island, also known as Avalon, with Niviene’s brother, Lugh. Niviene is happy in her Fey world, living apart from most of her kind except when she and Lugh and their friend Elana slip into the villages and pretend to be Human.
The basic elements of the Arthur legend are here—Gwen’s relationship with Lancelot (though there is a surprise there), Mordred’s arrival at the court, the forces that ultimately threaten Arthur’s rule. But what sets Merlin’s Harp apart is Niviene’s perspective.
Niviene is 100 percent Fey, or so she believes, and as such she doesn’t understand the Human emotions of love, honor, greed, lust and longing. She has special powers that allow her to see the future through the flames of fire and speak to animals. Her forested world is rich in fantastical elements. And yet, Niviene is drawn into the Human world by Merlin, a frequent visitor to Apple Island and a friend of her mother’s. Merlin asks Niviene to help Arthur by going with Merlin to Arthur’s court. She risks losing her own power, and if she does, she will not be able to help Arthur.
Merlin’s Harp weaves a tale that blends the lines of mythical and historical worlds. Poems of Merlin’s Song and his life history are woven through the chapters, and they create a subtext of interest in Merlin’s birth and adolescence, not just as the old man we usually see him as. While the premise of the story may be well known, the details of Merlin’s Harp make it seem freshly told. Niviene’s perspective made me thing of the Arthur legend in a different way and imagine new possibilities for the reasons behind the actions of each player. The ending surprised me as well, and I thought it was fun to think of new possibilities for a tale so often told. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 14 and up.