Anna Elliott – Twilight of Avalon
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.
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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