Anna Elliott – Dark Moon of Avalon
Length: 436 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Arthurian legend, with a strong dose of Romance and a few hints of Fantasy
Started: 23 November 2010
Finished: 26 November 2010
Where did it come from? Won in a giveaway from Shanra at Libri Touches.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed the first book in the series, and wanted the rest of the story.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 13 October 2010.
Isolde’s got more than
some sword cuts to heal: all of
Britain, and her own heart.
Summary: Lady Isolde is many things: the granddaughter of King Arthur and of his sister Morgan, the daughter of the traitorous Modred, a healer who is gifted with strong but unpredictable flashes of the Sight, and the former High Queen to two of Arthur’s successors: Constantine, the young king, as well as Marche, Constantine’s murderer and the figure that haunts Isolde’s nightmares. Now that Marche has turned traitor and formed an alliance with the bloodthirsty Saxon King Octa, Isolde and the other British kings are left in dire straits, with little chance of holding Britain free of Saxon conquest. When Trystan – a young man who is Isolde’s childhood friend, a mercenary fighter, escaped slave, and Marche’s son, amongst other things – reappears at the fortress where Isolde is staying, she formulates a desperate plan to save the kingdom: she and Trystan will cross Saxon lands, and seek an alliance with King Cerdic of Wessex. But their journey together will place them in grave peril – both from the the swords of bandits and enemy fighters, as well as from their own feelings for each other, feelings to which they dare not admit, even to themselves.
Review: Once again, Anna Elliott has done an excellent job of taking Arthurian legend (or, in this case, the post-Arthurian legend of Trystan and Isolde) and grounding it in a believable historical context of Britain in the Dark Ages. Of course, there are bits of her story that are either anachronistic or made up out of whole cloth, as she freely admits in her author’s note. But on the whole, she’s taken tales that are frequently treated as fantastical or implausible, and turned them into a story that is easy to believe might actually have happened.. Even the fantasy-based elements that remain in her story – Isolde’s gift of the Sight – feel grounded in known Celtic religious traditions, and don’t ruin the story’s credibility.
The story of Trystan and Isolde is, of course, primarily a romance. While most of the romance elements had been stripped away from Twilight of Avalon, they’re brought more to the forefront here, although the romance isn’t really the driving force of the story. Or, well, it *is*, but it’s also well-integrated with the politics and the action, so that while the relationship is only the sole focus of a few scenes, it’s always present humming away in the background, motivating the character’s choices without totally overshadowing the outcomes of those choices.
It is, however, the type of romance story where the entire conflict is driven by the fact that the main characters refuse to actually speak their minds and thus misunderstandings ensue, which gets pretty old pretty quickly. No matter how much I like the characters (and I certainly do like both Isolde and Trystan), I wind up just wanting to slap both of them and say “look, I know you think that he/she doesn’t love you back and you don’t want to burden them with the knowledge of Your Impossible Unrequited Love because they are too good for you, but for the love of little apples, just speak up and tell them that you love them and think they’re awesome and that you want to do unspeakable things to them, and save everyone involved a lot of hassle.” Of course, if they’d actually listened to that advice and, y’know, *talked* to each other, it would have been a very short book indeed. And, just because the lack-of-communication-style romance gets on my nerves occasionally, it doesn’t mean it’s not effective; I still got all mushy when they finally do tell each other how they feel.
Overall, Dark Moon of Avalon was a solid blending of historical fiction and Arthurian legend, with interesting and sympathetic characters, plenty of action, a touching love story, and a realistic historical framework. I’m looking forward to seeing how Elliott wraps up the story in Sunrise of Avalon. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Elliott does a nice job of summarizing what’s come before (although without boring established readers), so this could theoretically be read independently of Twilight of Avalon… but since everything that I liked about this book I also liked about the first one, I’d really recommend reading them in order. Recommended for fans of historical fiction, particularly those who find normal Arthurian retellings a bit melodramatic or implausible. If you’re unsure, I’d definitely recommend checking out one of Elliott’s free short stories on her website to get a feel for her writing and her world.
Links: Anna Elliott’s website
First Line: I have been a tear in the air, / I have been the dullest of stars.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 25: “Men badly wounded – often with arms or hands or lower limbs gone – who dreaded the debility being noticed for the first time.” – a particular mental or physical handicap; disability. I’d got the meaning from “debilitate,” but I don’t think I’d ever seen the noun form before.
- p. 112-3: ““In a time that once was, is now gone forever, and will come back again soon, a young maid’s lover was stolen from her by the Fair Folk to pay their seven year’s tiend to the gods of the earth.”” – Dutch term for “tithe”.
- p. 114: ““They’ll turn me in your arms, lady, / Into an esk and adder, / But hold me fast, and fear me not, / I am your babe’s father.”” – There is a River Esk in Cumbria, and “esk” is said to mean “water”… but in the story itself, the man changes into a serpent, a bear, and an white-hot iron rod, so I don’t know.
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