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Anna Elliott – Twilight of Avalon

August 6, 2010

88. Twilight of Avalon by Anna Elliott (2009)
Avalon, Book 1

Length: 436 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction with a sizable touch of fantasy/mysticism.

Started: 22 July 2010
Finished: 30 July 2010

Where did it come from? Won in a giveaway from Michele at A Reader’s Respite
Why do I have it? Jen’s fault (and Michele’s, of course, but Jen’s review was what made me put it on my wishlist).
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 11 June 2009.

When Arthur’s dead, the
child of his betrayer must
keep the country whole.

Summary: King Arthur has been dead for seven years, and the kingdom of Britain is still feeling the effects. His successor, King Constantine, has now also fallen in battle with the Saxons, and his wife, Isolde – granddaughter of Arthur by the treasonous pairing of Arthur’s bastard son Modred with his wife Gwynefar – is in a precarious position, haunted by a past she cannot remember and only delicately balanced between the factions that threaten to tear Britain apart. She is nominally still High Queen, but none of them men’s council trusts her due to her traitor father, and most fear her as a witch, due to the blood of Morgan that flows through her veins. King Marche seems primed to seize power, and he is a hard, cold, and cruel man. There is nothing that Isolde can do to prevent Marche from becoming High King… but when he claims her as his queen on threat of death, the only option left to her is to flee, along with a mysterious prisoner who seems neither Briton nor Saxon, but may hold the key to Isolde’s future and freedom.

Review: I realized pretty immediately upon opening this book that it was not going to be quite what I expected. The first generations of the family tree had names that were familiar enough, but having Isolde be the daughter of Modred and Gwynefar was a version of Arthurian legend I had never heard before, and it threw me a little bit, and took me a while to establish myself in Elliott’s version of Dark Age Britain. (Her version is based on an early version of the Arthur story – before Lancelot even entered the legend, and the betrayal of Modred and Gwynhefar was what brought down the kingdom – so it’s not like she made it up out of whole cloth.) The legend of Tristan and Isolde sticks more closely to established legend, although it was clear from very early on that this was not going to be a version in which Mark was a sympathetic cuckold. Elliott’s Marche is severely unsympathetic; I almost wish she’d given him a hint of something positive, a little glimmer of a shade of gray, instead of making him an unrelieved villain. I was also expecting a Tristan & Isolde story to have a little more romance than this one provided – there is certainly a spark between the two characters, but any actual romance is left for later in the series. However, I found that I didn’t really miss the traditional romantic elements much; there was more than enough else going on to hold my interest.

I think my favorite thing about this book was how well Elliott grounded the familiar story in a plausible historical context. I could well believe that these characters existed and lived much as she writes them – Isolde’s a proto-feminist but not anachronistically so, especially with the blood of Avalon in her veins. The juxtaposition of pagan and Christian traditions is usually one of the more interesting parts of Arthurian stories for me, and while that was present, I felt like it could have been played up more strongly. I also really liked the sense of things falling apart, of fading from the golden light of Arthur’s Camelot into the beginning of a dark age – I’ve learned from Jo Graham’s books that I really enjoy stories of people trying to hold together after everything they’ve known has fallen away.

Overall, though, while I really enjoyed the setting, the story, and the characters, there was just a little bit of a spark that was missing that kept me from totally loving it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very enjoyable read and a very interesting take on some old tales, and I’m certainly interested in reading the sequel(s), but it fell just a bit short of the mark in terms of leaping out, grabbing me, and making itself a favorite. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It’s definitely worth reading for most historical fiction fans, and shouldn’t be missed by readers who enjoy Arthurian legend.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Nut, Charlotte’s Library, Devourer of Books, Libri Touches, The Literate Housewife Review, Medieval Bookworm, A Reader’s Respite, S. Krishna’s Books, Things Mean a Lot, Trish’s Reading Nook, Working Title
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2010 7:21 am

    I had no idea that Gwynhefar committed adultery with Modred before Lancelot was added to the myth- you learn something new every day. I’m also quite pleased Elliott can work a proto-feminist without having them be too modern; that can be a difficult thing.

    • August 9, 2010 2:57 pm

      Omni – I didn’t realize that that was part of the myth either – In my mind, so much of the story is tied up with Guinivere’s being barren that to have her have a daughter with Mordred took some serious mental readjustment.

  2. August 6, 2010 9:12 am

    I’m not sure this book is for me since I’m really not all that interested in Arthurian legend. Great review!

    • August 9, 2010 2:57 pm

      Kathy – Yeah, at least some interest in Arthuriana is kind of a prerequisite.

  3. August 6, 2010 10:45 am

    This was actually the book that got me interested in Arthurian legend, so the lack of more interplay between paganism and Christianity didn’t bother me much. I really liked the way Elliott wove in the mystical elements.

    • August 9, 2010 2:58 pm

      Jen – I’m a little biased, since the first Arthurian legend book I read was Mists of Avalon, which has SO MUCH to do with Christians vs. pagans that I now kind of expect it everywhere else.

  4. August 6, 2010 3:16 pm

    I really enjoyed this one, but I like most things based on Arthurian legends. I liked Elliott’s approach to it. I still haven’t managed to read the next one though.

    • August 9, 2010 3:00 pm

      Meghan – Amazon’s telling me that the next book isn’t published in the US for a month and a half, so I’ve got a good excuse for not having read it yet!

  5. August 6, 2010 6:35 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it! Anna writes some of the best Arthurian lit out there….I’m really exciting that the next book is coming out this fall it looks like (I’ve read it and it’s FABULOUS).

    • August 9, 2010 3:02 pm

      Michele – Thanks again for the giveaway! I’m not lacking in Arthuriana on my TBR pile, but I’m always happy to find a new source.

  6. August 6, 2010 9:14 pm

    I’m still waiting for the book that will make me love Arthurian legend. Right now I’m very picky, and I can only think of two Arthurian books I’ve enjoyed enough to want to read again. I don’t understand why I’m this way! I suspect it is because I didn’t fall in love with those Mary Stewart books as a kid.

    • August 9, 2010 3:03 pm

      Jenny – Which two? I haven’t read the Mary Stewart books yet, even though I’ve got them all on my shelf.

  7. August 7, 2010 7:28 pm

    I’m not normally big on Arthurian legends, but I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since Shanra reviewed it at Libri Touches. It sounds really, really good.

    • August 9, 2010 3:04 pm

      Memory – Am I right in thinking you’re the one who hates Lancelot? Because if I am, this seems like Arthuriana that would be right up your alley, seeing as it is 100% Lancelot-free.

  8. August 7, 2010 8:40 pm

    This sounds really good, I’ve never read anything based on Arthurian legend, but need to. The films I have seen I’ve really liked.
    Fantastic review!

    • August 9, 2010 3:05 pm

      bookworm – I don’t know if you’ve seen the fairly recent Trystan & Isolde movie, but this is not quite the same tale (at all). This one is a fair bit darker, I think, and Mark/Marche is much more horrible in the book – in the movie he’s pretty sympathetic.

  9. August 10, 2010 3:24 am

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! The mix of a well-grounded historical setting with elements from the myth might have been my favourite thing about it too.

    • August 13, 2010 11:40 am

      Nymeth – While I don’t mind Arthurian retellings that are set in some mythical ahistoric version of Britain, I do like them much better when they’re made at least somewhat historically plausible. Same goes for most myths/legends, actually.

  10. August 11, 2010 11:49 pm

    Great review! I have this one sitting in my TBR for a while now (too long) and I definitely needed some incentive to pick it up. I I love things inspired by Trystan and Isolde and Arthurian Legend so I’m hoping I’ll love this one, too.

    • August 13, 2010 11:41 am

      Kay – I hope you love it! I’ve only read one other Trystan and Isolde story that I remember (Prince of Dreams by Nancy McKenzie)… do you have any other good recommendations?

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