Jun 23, 2009

Book Review: "Twilight of Avalon" by Anna Elliott & Arthurian Links to Ponder

Twilight of Avalon: A Novel of Trystan & Isolde Book 1 in a Trilogy by Anna Elliott
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Touchstone (May 5, 2009)
Historical Fiction, Fantasy
ISBN-10: 1416589899
The Burton Review Rating: 4.75 EASILY MY NEW FAVORITE

The Blurb:
"Seven years ago, on the battlefield of Camlann, the great King Arthur was slain by Modred, his traitor son. And in the aftermath of battle, Isolde, daughter of Modred, was married to Arthur's heir, Britain's new high king, in a desperate bid to unite Britain's warring factions. But now Isolde's husband lies dead on another battlefield, and the Saxon tide that Arthur turned back is once more threatening Britain's shores. Only Isolde knows the truth: that her husband was killed, not by the Saxon enemy, but by a powerful nobleman who will stop at nothing to become the next high king. Mistrusted among the king's council for her father's treachery, and branded a witch by many for her skill at the healer's craft, Isolde's only hope for survival is Trystan, a mercenary warrior with a shadowed past. Together Isolde and Trystan must fight to protect the throne from the king's murderer, and expose a treasonous plot that could destroy Britain itself."

From my Teaser Tuesday post:
"I know. I saw him killed. I watched him die."
Isolde was distantly aware of Hedda's sharp gasp, but the remnants of the vision were gathering and forming before her once more, and the sound seemed to come from a long way off.

You really need to go Read an Excerpt on Anna Elliott's website.

I totally ate this book up. I love the myth and the legend behind it, and the unique twist that Anna puts on it. You've heard of the legend of King Arthur. Picture grey skies, howling winds and cold seas; the cover is perfect for this tale. Quite a legendary story it is with Arthur and his son Modred, who are both killed at Camlaan fighting each other. Though Lancelot is not present in the legend that the author pulls from, Anna Elliott's story begins with Modred's daughter Isolde as she learns that her husband of seven years, the High King Constantine, is killed fighting the Saxons. 6th century Britain as they know it is shifting, with its many kings with their own lands all vying for power. Isolde cannot trust anyone as she tries to make sense of what flashes she sees in her mind, and what is truth.

Elliott meanders slowly through Isolde's path of Dark Age Britain so that we are treated to descriptive characterizations and settings which are well illustrated as she struggles with her thoughts of the past and the present. Isolde used to have the power for visions (The Sight) but as we meet her, we learn she had been stripped of those powers somewhere about the time that she had married Constantine. Yet, somehow, she sees the event of Constantine's death, and learns that his death is not due to battle wounds but someone, although his face covered, supposedly on her side has murdered him. This knowledge she wisely keeps to herself as she treads lightly among the council members. She and the murderer know the truth, as she is quite alone in the world struggling for survival amongst power hungry warlords who believe Isolde to be a sorceress or a witch and would love to see her burnt at the stake.

Isolde is lucky to have crossed paths with Trystan, and she embarks on an adventure to save both her life and the Britain that her late husband had struggled to maintain. There is death, magic and survival all intertwined beautifully in the story that is legend for a reason. Anna Elliott uses the myth and lore to recreate the consequences of the Battle of Camlann in an enchanting tale that captures the reader from the start as we follow Isolde on her bitter journey.

I found each page to be a thrill and I completely relished the story itself. I loved the easy writing style of Anna Elliott, the picturesque narrative was complete and fulfilling. The author had to explain to the reader certain events of the past in order to make the present story work, requiring a lot of flashbacks with Isolde's grandmother Morgan appearing in quick visions or as a voice. Sometimes it fit well, other times it was a tad out of place as if it were forced in to help prove a point. But most of the time the cohesiveness gelled with the flow of the story so this is a minor issue. Using the strong-willed Isolde as a central character in this story the reader immediately bonds to her and empathizes with her as she endures issues that a modern day woman can relate to. I am not going to go further into the events of the story because I know you are going to want to read this book on your own and follow Isolde's journey yourself. If you are familiar with the love story of Tristan and Iseult, this is not the same story. Perhaps the characters are the same but there is not a strong resemblance, at least in this first book. There is no romance here, and nothing alludes to it either. This is merely the story of how Isolde tries to honor her promise to her dead husband in saving Britain from the traitorous Lord Marche.

The only warning about Anna Elliott's book I would give is that her Trystan has a mouth on him and likes to invoke the Lord's name in vain. I believe the author is trying to prove a small point here in which the world of Isolde had once been one tolerant of witches yet is now the new Britain who recently became Christian.
Do you remember the days in high school when you would adorn your bedroom walls with posters and pictures you loved? A blow up of this book cover would be one of them, complete with its title and wording, so that the feeling of the magical story can be remembered each day. Anna Elliott's interpretation of the aftermath of Arthur's Britain is a wonderful addition to the myriad of Arthurian books, as I am anxiously awaiting Book 2, Dark Moon of Avalon due out in May 2010. The prologue to Dark Moon is up on Anna Elliott's website; the working title of Book Three is Sunrise of Avalon. I can't wait to see those covers as well! The Bridgeman Art Library has had the best book covers I've seen this year. Thank you so much to Anna Elliott for weaving this fine tale, now hurry up and get the rest of series published!!

If you watched Tristan & Isolde, the movie with the gorgeous James Franco, there is also no resemblance from this particular book to the movie, and I also loved the movie. I have not read Rosalind Miles' trilogy or the classic by Bedier, but I will. Recommended to me was Mists of Avalon, twice over, so I will add that to my shelf also. I have a growing Arthurian Book Collection.
Read some other Reviews:
Reading The Past (with some more background included)
A Reader's Respite
Jenny Loves To Read
S. Krishna's Books

In honor of Science Fiction/Fantasy Writer's Day I am also including here links of interest for those wanting to do some more perusing of the King Arthur story:
A group of links from Anna's Site
And then sent to me by Anna Elliott herself are these picks (thank you!):
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~merrie/Arthur/ is very well-structured and gives a good basic grounding in the Arthur legends.
http://www.geocities.com/vortigernstudies/bibliograrth.htm is more scholarly and probably for true Arthur/history enthusiasts only--but it has some fascinating articles.
http://www.gorddcymru.org/twilight/camelot/art/index.htm is a library of paintings and illustrations inspired by Arthurian legend.
Others:
Regarding The Tomb and the History http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/gerald.htm

A teacher's blog with interesting video http://anaeoilangreo.blogspot.com/2009/05/king-arthur.html

Pics of Cornwall Trip, Students In Search of Arthur http://efljblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/king-arthur-discovered-though-he-had-no.html
A King Arthur Author Blog http://blog.kingarthur.org.uk/?cat=17

A background on the Lore http://beyondtheblog.wordpress.com/2007/12/12/king-arthur/

BlogTalk Radio Questioning the Evidence http://www.blogtalkradio.com/localelives/2009/01/10/The-Legend-of-King-Arthur
Happy Surfing as we await Anna's next installment! Also visit the guest post that Anna wrote for Historical-Fiction.com
And in honor of Fantasy Writer's Day, Anna has graciously agreed to write a little Guest Post for this blog! I am so excited for that and that is posted above this review, which covers her thoughts on writing a historical work on something as elusive yet familiar as King Arthur's Legend.
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