You know those books that you are pretty sure you are really going to love, so you buy it and wait to read it because once you read it, you won't be able to look forward to reading it anymore? This was one of those books for me. I picked up a paperback copy of The Moonspinners donkeys ages ago, at either the UBS or a library sale, & I've been holding onto it since then. I finally decided that life was too short to not read this book, and there were other Mary Stewarts for me to read, so I should just do it already.
This is a near perfect romantic suspense novel.
I loved everything about this book. The setting is divine - it is set on the island of Crete, primarily in a small fishing village. Mary Stewart has tremendous respect for her settings, and she works hard to incorporate details of the lives of the inhabitants that lend a great deal of richness to the setting. The main character, Nicola, is a junior undersecretary at the British embassy in Athens, and she has taken the time to learn Greek.
I love this detail. I think that this is a really important little piece of character development, especially given that this book was initially published in 1962. Mary Stewart not only gives her main character enough personal agency to go abroad to Greece and take a job on her own - something that is intimidating and noteworthy in 2017 - but that same heroine has enough intellectual curiosity and engagement to learn the language while she is there, which shows tremendous respect for the local culture.
While Nicola did, at times, engage in some pretty silly behavior, overall this is a heroine who is genuinely independent. All too often we see authors who claim that their heroes are "independent," but whose behavior doesn't reflect that independence. In this book, Stewart never uses the word "independent" to describe Nicola, she just shows us a young British woman who IS independent without constantly having to try to convince the reader of that aspect of her character.
Stewart also references other relationships that Nicola has been involved in, and there is a clear implication that she is a frankly modern young woman with a "past" which is treated as totally normal and not something shameful. It's really difficult to overstate the importance of this element - again, this book was written in 1962. There is no slut-shaming here, and in fact, Nicola's prior experiences with men is just taken for granted and stated matter-of-factly. Of course a young single woman has had prior experiences.
So, the setting is delightful and the main character is likeable. The male love interest is also a likeable young man, although he is much less the focus than the heroine. Stewart's descriptions of the native flora and fauna are absolutely lovely, even as she manages to avoid allowing her narrative to devolve into a travelogue. I don't really have any complaints about this book, just minor quibbles that aren't worth delving into here.
This book could be categorized as "New Adult," and when I compare it to the crap that is being published right now under that label, I laugh. Mary Stewart is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers. I foresee a future in which I've tracked down and read every single thing she's ever written.