The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart

The Moonspinners “Sometimes, when you’re deep in the countryside, you meet three girls, walking along the hill tracks in the dusk, spinning. They each have a spindle, and onto these they are spinning their wool, milk-white, like the moonlight. In fact, it is the moonlight, the moon itself…all they have to do is to see that the world gets its hours of darkness, and they do this by spinning the moon down out of the sky.”

With spring still a few weeks away and the weather still cold, damp and miserable, The Moonspinners with its beautifully described Greek island setting was just what I needed!

The story is narrated by Nicola Ferris, who is taking a break from her job at the British Embassy in Athens to spend a few days visiting Crete. She has arranged to meet her cousin, Frances, there but Nicola arrives a day earlier than planned and decides to go exploring on her own. In the mountains above Agios Georgios, the village where they are going to be staying, Nicola stumbles into adventure when she meets a young Englishman, Mark Langley, who has been wounded after witnessing a crime.

Mark is being tended by his Greek friend, Lambis, but his younger brother, Colin, has been kidnapped by the criminal gang and Mark is worried that he might have been murdered. Nicola wants to help but it’s time to go down to the village and meet Frances, so she reluctantly leaves Mark and Lambis in their hiding place. After arriving at her hotel and speaking to the hotel owner and his assistant, Nicola thinks she has discovered who was responsible for Colin’s disappearance, but will she be able to find him before it’s too late?

I love Mary Stewart’s books because they’re fun and easy to read while still being well-written, intelligent novels with exciting plots and atmospheric settings. Her descriptive writing is so impressive in this book; whether she’s describing the colour of the sea, the warmth of the sun, the fishing boats in the bay, the unspoilt countryside or the picturesque sight of windmills with white sails, she always chooses the perfect words and makes everything sound beautiful and idyllic:

“A clump of tamarisk trees stood where the gravel gave way to the flat rock of the foreshore; this, smoothed and fissured by water, burned white in the sun. In every cranny of rock blazed the brilliant pink and crimson sunbursts of ice daisies, and just beside them, the sea moved lazily, silky and dark, its faint bars of light and shadow gently lifting and falling against the hot rock.”

I have never been to Crete but reading the wonderful, evocative way it is depicted in this book made me wish I was there, though as the book was written in the 1960s before the Greek islands became such popular tourist destinations (Nicola and Frances are the only guests at their tiny hotel in Agios Georgios) I’m sure the culture and landscape must have changed a lot since then!

Of the five Mary Stewart novels I have now read, this is one of my favourites so far and might be a good one to start with if you’ve never read any of her books. There’s also a 1964 Disney film version of The Moonspinners with Hayley Mills, though I haven’t seen it and have heard that it’s very different to the book. Has anyone seen it?

The Gabriel Hounds will be the next Mary Stewart book I read – I found it in the library last week and am looking forward to starting it in the next few days.

23 thoughts on “The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I love Mary Stewart and her incredible scenery description! Her books are like mini-vacations. I was in Crete about 10 years ago, and it was still that beautiful then.

  2. Anbolyn Potter (@anbolynp) says:

    I’m so glad you liked it! It is also my favorite of the Stewart’s I’ve read. I think one of the reasons is because the setting is evoked so beautifully here, as you mention, with her vivid and energetic descriptions of the landscape. I also really liked Nicola as a character – the best Stewart heroine I’ve encountered so far.

  3. Lisa says:

    I’ve been meaning to try Mary Stewart again (I love the Merlin books), and I’ve had The Ivy Tree on the TBR stacks for months now. I’ll keep this one in mind – it sounds wonderful.

    • Helen says:

      This one and Nine Coaches Waiting are my personal favourites so far, but The Ivy Tree is great too – I hope you enjoy it when you eventually get to it.

    • Michelle Wren says:

      i read a set of merlin books as a kid that my grandfather loved n referred to me, n i have never been able to figure out who wrote them or find them again! i only vaguely remember some parts of the story for clues, so when i try n google them im not successful. culd u please give an outline of the first merlin book? I’ve been trying to find these books again for at least 20yrs. is there some kind of otherworld or two worlds? or maybe through some mists. i remember something like quests sort if and a dragon. maybe a peat bog? (but that last one i could be mixing up with another book from my youth, with a witch or monster). but for some reason it always reminds me of this mists of Avalon book my uncle wanted me to read, I don’t know why. but I absolutely LOVED the Merlin books I read.

      • Helen says:

        Hi Michelle,

        Here is my review of The Crystal Cave:
        I don’t think the Mary Stewart books will be the ones you’re thinking of, as they are really more historical fiction than fantasy and don’t involve quests or dragons. The only other books I can remember reading about Merlin and Arthur are The Once and Future King books by TH White but they’re probably not what you’re looking for either. I hope you manage to find them!

  4. aartichapati says:

    I have only read Stewart’s Arthurian series, which was absolutely amazing. i really should try her other books, too – I think I’d like them just as much, even if they are very different in style and story.

  5. Leander says:

    Hello Helen! I don’t think I’ve read anything by Mary Stewart, you know… clearly something that must be rectified. After all this miserable snow in London today I could do with a splash of Greek sunshine. Oh, and if you want more Greek sunshine, and some mystery and mythology and lots of profoundly strange goings-on, try John Fowles’s The Magus (if you haven’t already read it). It’s a bit of a love-hate kind of book, but it’s certainly sun-drenched and languid. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read The Magus (or anything else by John Fowles) but I think it has been recommended to me before. Thanks for reminding me about it!

      • Leander says:

        I haven’t read all of Fowles’s books, but The Collector is also very good – although also deeply disturbing, as it explores the twisted recesses of a very unsettled mind…

  6. Ann says:

    I remember this being made into a movie starring Hayley Mills. I took the book to school when we supposed to take classics because I thought the definition of a classic was that it had been made into a movie!!! My English teacher didn’t agree with my logic.

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