Remembering Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart died this month at the age of 97. As the author credited for creating the romantic suspense genre she leaves behind a tremendous legacy in the world of books. Even though she hasn’t published since 1997, her novels are still being read and sold to this day. Among her most popular franchises is her Arthurian Legend series that begins with The Crystal Cave and ends with The Wicked Day. Those novels have a special place on my keeper shelf but it is her lovely, gothic suspense books that have always held the strongest place in my heart.

Back in my tween reading years I spent a lot of time with Ms. Stewart and her compatriots Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney. My grandmother had given us a large stack of their books (we got the rest from the library) most of which featured a young woman on the cover running from some medieval style stone structure in her nightgown. One can only assume the cover artists had no knowledge of the books since I can’t remember this scene happening in a single one of them. What I do remember is the bright, inquisitive heroines fighting for justice and falling in love along the way.

Stewart’s heroines especially were far from delicate violets. They travelled to amazing places like Greece and Vienna and the Canary Islands. They jumped right into adventures, they solved mysteries and they had harrowing brushes with death along the way.  They were well written, intelligent women who knew how to deal with the problems life threw at them. I’ve read all her books and while I didn’t love them all I found them all to be easy, enjoyable reads. I was especially delighted when I was able to borrow a copy of the elusive (and expensive) The Wind Off the Small Isles in order to finish off her list. It’s a short tale about a find on the Canary Islands which is of value only to a handful of people. A bit different from her usual work but it did contain her trademark descriptions of the location.

That is where Ms. Stewart really stood out – her descriptions of the exotic places her heroines travelled.  Her approach was unique; many writers wall paper their locales on, giving us mentions of a few important landmarks and then focusing on their story. Others write a travel brochure leaving you with the feeling that at some point you might want to visit. Stewart somehow made you feel like by reading the book you had visited; she captured the sights, sounds, scents. She didn’t just tell you about the major tourist attractions but took you down back alleys and through windmill filled fields to give you the full sense of the place. You met the natives; you learned the customs. Reading a book by her was like going on vacation with her characters. You felt it all.

Before telling you my favorites I thought I would let a couple of other AAR staffers who also loved her share with us what they found special about her work.

Linniegayl: My mother introduced me to Mary Stewart and I have some wonderful memories talking about my favorite books with her. I link my desire to visit Greece for the first time to my favorite Stewart, The Moonspinners. While I haven’t been to Crete yet, the first time I glimpsed one of the Greek windmills on Santorini it brought back all my images of The Moonspinners. As an adult, I shared my love of Mary Stewart with my teenage niece, and the two of us read The Moonspinners and My Brother Michael while on a trip to Greece. The settings come to life in those books (as well as my third favorite – This Rough Magic.) The Gabriel Hounds! How could I forget that one! I remember being so shocked when we discovered the secret about Aunt Harriet. That was another great Stewart in an exotic location. And I think one of my first romances.

Lynn: Oh, I loved Mary Stewart’s books! Nine Coaches Waiting is a special favorite of mine. I just loved the way she created her settings and the eerie gothic mood of her stories. I also liked that her heroines were intelligent and that they actually went out and did things rather than just passively sitting back while things happened to them.

Maggie: My two favorites are Airs Above the Ground which includes the famous Lipizzaners of the Spanish Riding School and has a wonderful secondary character in Tim Lacy and Rose Cottage, a mystery which has a happy surprise at the center of it.

Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite novels about this author? Who introduced you to her? What did you find special about her work?


Maggie Boyd

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31 Responses to Remembering Mary Stewart

  1. Paola says:

    I only read three so far (Nine Coaches Waiting, This Rough Magic and Madam, Will You Talk?), but I have all the ebooks in my TBR pile.
    My favorite is NCW, with its Jane Eyresque feel and I discovered her here, I think it was something written by Rike.
    I love her descriptions, it seems to be there with her characters in Provence or Corfu and the way she portrays her wonderful heroes and heroines.

    • maggie b. says:

      Love those descriptions! I can still remember the beginning of the Moon Spinners and the way she spoke of that location. Made me long for a Greek Holiday.

  2. Leigh says:

    I too loved Mary Stewart books. It is almost too hard to pick a favorite. I read and re-read her books over and over. Like you said, the heroines were not shrinking violets, most were strong, capable women that handled what ever life through at them.

    • maggie b. says:

      I like having her books to re-read although lately it feels like there is never enough time to I do wish I had them in e-format. Such a nice way to keep books :-)

  3. Maria D. says:

    I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t read as many Mary Stewart books as I should – since I’m huge fan of the romantic suspense genre. A book I have never forgotten by Mary is The Ivy Tree. I keep asking Amazon to get it in Kindle format as I would love to re-read it and know I would still enjoy it. If I have any complaint it would be that – none of her books are available in Kindle and I feel like a generation of readers is missing out on a great reading experience.

    • maggie b. says:

      I totally agree. I went out there to see if my faves were in kindle format and they weren’t. They should be.

      • Paola says:

        I don’t know if it’s just a US problem, but all her books are available in Kindle version at Amazon UK.

        • Maria D. says:

          It’s a US problem – the Kindle version is available in the UK, Canada and even Australia – not sure what the problem is other than there were apparently quite a few publishers who had the rights to her books. I just feel like it’s not fair that we don’t get to buy the ebook versions of her books – even if they were the cost of a hardcover book (US $14-17) – I would buy them because I love them!

          • Bona says:

            It looks that the problem exists in USA only.
   (Spain), (Germany) and (France) have Mary Stewart’s novel in kindle format.

      • Joji says:

        So hard to pick a single favorite! I’ve read almost all of her books and found myself nodding my head in agreement each time I read another title in the comments. The Moonspinners is the one that came to mind first though, with Airs Above the Ground and The Ivy Tree not far behind. I’m another who’d love to see these in Kindle format. I’ve requested before, but it might be time to click on that “Tell the Publisher” link again so that they know that the interest is there.

  4. I absolutely adore Mary Stewart’s novels! I would have to rank her as my favorite author, and a major influence on me. I only discovered her a few years ago reading a blog post that mentioned her books, but I wish I had been able to read them earlier. It’s so hard to choose a favorite, but I think This Rough Magic might be it for me. She had such a gift for description, and for sucking you in and not letting you go. I also love how understated her romances are, but I’m still hanging on every word, waiting for the h&h to get together.

  5. leslie says:

    Nice post….thank you for remembering Mary Stewart. Hardly anything was mention in the papers, which is a shame, because she was a wonderful and very popular storyteller.

    Mary Stewart and Joni Mitchell were responsible for my teenage obsession with Crete. I spent a summer in Greece during college and it was magical. Of course I carried my well worn copy of The Moonspinners in my pack.

    I love Nine Coaches Waiting….it is soooo good!

    My Mother gave me the Hollow Hills to read when I was a girl, it’s been years since I read the Merlin books, but I remember reading them over and over especially at night with a flashlight under the covers.

    R.I.P. Mary Stewart and Blessed Be.

  6. LeeB. says:

    I remember reading lots of Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney but not Mary Stewart and I’m not sure why.

    • maggie b. says:

      Lee, based on books you’ve said you like I think you would like Stewart.
      She reminds me a bit of Kearsley.

  7. Renee says:

    I absolutely love Mary Stewart. I don’t remember how I first discovered her but I adored her along with Victoria Holt. My favorite Mary Stewart books are Nine Coaches Waiting, This Rough Magic and Airs Above the Ground. Her ability to make you feel the essence of the story’s locale was truly special.

    I, too, agree that I wish they would release her books in digital format in the US. I would love to curl up and revisit her books.

  8. Kay Webb Harrison says:

    I don’t remember the first Stewart book I read, but I must have read it in the 1960s. I know that I read This Rough Magic during my sophomore year of high school, which was 1965-1966. At that time, I got most of the books I read from the school or public library.

    I also read Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney, but I much preferred Stewart’s work. Another favorite of mine is Helen MacInnes; her books featured romance and espionage from just before WWII through the Cold War.


    • Renee says:

      Thanks for the reminder. I loved Helen MacInnes, too. Between Mary Stewart and Helen MacInnes, they really helped form my reading tastes today.

    • maggie b. says:

      I will have to add MacInnes to my want to read list, I haven’t read her before but she sounds like a writer I would like.

  9. Mary Stewart introduced me to romantic suspense, beginning my life-long devotion to the genre. I don’t think I can pick just one favorite, although Madam, Will You Talk was the first one I read and still occupies a special place in my heart and on my shelf. I also love This Rough Magic, The Moonspinners, My Brother Michael, and Nine Coaches Waiting. For all its weaknesses, I think I admire The Ivy Tree the most, for pulling off something I would have sworn couldn’t be done.

  10. Emily says:

    I have never read any Stewart, except for a failed attempt with the Ivy Tree, which I didn’t enjoy. Do you have any recommendations on which Stewart to read first?

    • maggie b. says:

      No author works for everybody so she just may not be your cuppa. But if you wanted to try again maybe you could do Nine Coaches Waiting or My Brother Michael or Madame, Will You Talk? All three are romantic suspense books.

  11. Biddy says:

    My favourite is Thornyhold, which no-one else has mentioned. I also love the Arthurian Legend series too.

  12. I LOVE Mary Stewart! I read them in my tween years and growing up in a small town in TN, she opened a world to me. I was in Greece or France or Morroco running for my life along with the heroines. And I loved the fact her heroines didn’t wait for a man to come save them. I have all have all her books on my keeper shelf. I wasn’t as wild about her Merlin series but Airs Above Ground and This Rough Magic are two of my favs followed closely by Touch Not The Cat.
    I’m going to pick one up a reread it this weekend!

  13. Marianne McA says:

    My mother always enjoyed, and still rereads, Stewart, so I imagine that’s how I came across her. Favourites are hard to choose: maybe The Moonspinners or Madam, Will You Talk? I did take the trip out to the Chateau d’if because of the latter.

    I think Susanna Kearsley is the other author that has that particular sense of place.

  14. Lorna B says:

    I have been a big fan of Mary Stewart’s since my early teens and have every one of her books on my keeper shelf. About every 3-4 years I re-read them, except for my favourites which I re-read annually. They include Nine Coaches Waiting, Madam, Will You Talk?, The Moon-Spinners and This Rough Magic.
    Thank you for the lovely tribute to Ms. Stewart and her extensive career. I feel I have lost a friend.

  15. Valerie says:

    I didn’t see any mention of Wildfire at Midnight. I loved that book in addition to the other romantic suspense books. I like the others read all of Mary Stewart’s books, Victoria Holt’s books and Phyllis Whitney’s books. I read them throughout high school and college. When I went to Greece in 1983, I felt like I had been there as a result of reading the Moonspinners and My Brother Michael. It is tough to pick a favorite because so many were so good. Based upon my continual rereading several of her books, I would have to say that I liked The Moonspinners, The Gabriel Hounds, Airs Above the Ground and Wildfire at Midnight the best.

  16. HJ says:

    Although I’ve never read the Arthur/Merlin books, I love and re-read the romantic suspenses frequently. Together with Georgette Heyer’s books they are my favourite comfort-reads. I think Madam, Will You Talk is my favourite, although Nine Coaches Waiting is a close second and most of the others are third!

  17. GayLauren says:

    My favourites are: Airs Above the Ground(I love the opening line “Carmel Lacy is the silliest woman I know, which is saying a good deal.” In just a few sentences we can picture the scene, the heroine’s situation and before we know it we are into the story), The Ivy Tree and Madam will you talk? Though I enjoy most of her romantic suspense stories. I sell books at fairs, swap meets etc and find people still enthuse about Mary Stewart as an author and buy her books (usually to replace their copies which have fallen apart from multiple reads). Far fewer still want Helen MacInnes or Victoria Holt/Phillipa Carr. A common comment is ” Oh I used to love Helen M/ Victoria H ” but they rarely buy. Georgette Heyer is very popular: usually people replacing worn out copies or introducing a daughter / granddaughter to her books.

  18. Mary Stewart Hayward says:

    I read Mary Stewart novels when I was young because that was my own name for 19 years. Now I read them because they are still good. I am starting a collection of the books for my granddaughters. I had not read any for many years but recently picked up a few at a library book sale. I was a little disappointed that I had not realized Ms. Stewart had passed away without my realizing it. Ah, well, her books are timeless.

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