Thursday, August 27, 2009

Twilight of Avalon - Anna Elliott

Title: Twilight of Avalon
Author: Anna Elliott
Published: 2009 Pages: 426
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

Let me preface this review by stating that my knowledge of Arthurian legends are foggy at best. I've heard of Tristan and Isolde and have seen the movie with James Franco (yum!), but I don’t know the details of the story. I was going into this book with a nearly clean slate. For me this was a positive, but I wanted to note that Elliott’s retelling deviates a little from the most common elements in the Arthurian legends. In this book, Arthur’s wife, Guinevere, had an affair with Arthur’s son Mordred and mothered Isolde.

Twilight of Avalon is a beautifully told story of Trystan and Isolde and the beginning of their relationship during a time of change and tumult. As the story opens, Isolde, the young High Queen of Britain, is mourning the loss of her husband King Constantine. Since the time of Arthur, the kingdoms of Britain have faced constant pressure from the Saxons and with their High King dead the kingdoms need to quickly reunite in order to present a strong front against a possible Saxon invasion. After several days without a High King, Lord Marche finally takes the throne, but Isolde suspects him of murdering Con.

With Lord Marche's rise to the throne, Isolde's position in court becomes questionable, especially after advances come from the new king to be his wife and she is repeatedly facing accusations of sorcery and witchcraft from others in the court. Isolde flees the palace for her safety, and she runs into a small band of outlaws, among them Trystan, who she entrusts with her knowledge of her husband's murder and Marche's traitorous actions. I suck at summaries--this makes the book sound very soap-operay but I didn't find it to be so. Moving on to the part I'm good at--telling you what I liked.

Isolde is a strong character, even in her moments of weakness. Her grandmother Morgan (also Arthur's half sister) has passed her the ability of Sight but more importantly the knowledge of medicines and herbs. Even when her Sight fails her and she is left without being able to see her distant past or future, she relies on her quick-wittedness for survival. Her ability to mix salves and heal wounds not only helps save the lives of others but also her own. The question of whether Isolde is a witch surfaces throughout the book, and even though she does not necessarily have powers, so understands how to use the fears of others as an advantage.

Many of the other characters, though, were sort of a blur to me. Elliott does provide a glossary of names at the beginning of the book, but I forgot who many of them were and had to flip back through the story to see when they had appeared before. This is probably my biggest complaint about the book, and even then it is a minor complaint as the major characters are all well-developed. I enjoyed watching the characters interact with one another, especially as Trystan and Isolde's friendship and trust developed throughout the novel. The further I got into the story the harder it was to put the book down, and even though the plot might have been a tad predictable it was still very engaging.

I would recommend this book to those who like Historical Fiction, Arthurian retellings, or just plan adventurous love stories. The writing, character development, and plot all came together very nicely and evenly in this book, which was refreshing after reading several books that were out of balance in these three things. Elliott's writing is beautiful and if I hadn't been so absorbed in the story I would have a nice quote to provide for you. Twilight of Avalon is the first in a trilogy, so there are several loose ends left in the novel but the ending was satisfying enough to hold me over for a few more months. I didn't get quite enough of Trystan and Isolde in this book (romance speaking), so I look forward to that in the next edition. Hopefully.

For a balance of opinions:

(Let me know if I missed yours)
Many thanks to Anna Elliott for allowing me to experience her retelling of this legendary love story.


bermudaonion said...

I know next to nothing about Arthurian legend and I've discovered that I do like historical fiction. I'm just not sure if I'm ready for a tale of knights, though.

Amanda said...

I had to read several Arthurian books back in high school. Some I liked, some I hated, so it appears that I'm hit or miss with these kinds of books.

J.T. Oldfield said...

I don't know a whole lot about Arthurian Legends either. I've been wanting to read the Mists of Avalon series for a while, though I really don't know what those are about, either. Maybe I'll read both and compare them (I highly doubt this will actually happen, but hey, it could).

The Reading Momster said...

I have never heard of "Arthurian legends" :)

Though I love to read abotu legends and I love historical fiction as well! I think I will add this one to my wishlist :) I like the sound of this!

serendipity_viv said...

If your knowledge of Arthurian legends is foggy, I may as well be blind! Is that bad, living in the UK and never reading about Arthur?

Ana S. said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it as much as I did, Trish! I didn't have that problem with the characters, but it's probably because I'm more used to Arthurian novels. And to fantasy with characters with weird names and complex family trees :P I'm guessing there will be more romance in the second and third books too.

Jeane said...

It sounds just wonderful. I've read a lot of Arthurian novels in the past, and I always like to find new variations.

Paxton said...

Love King Arthur and all that. Not sure I'm on board with the "romance" angle.

That Guinevere, she gets around. She cheats on Arthur in almost every single version of the legend.

Laura's Reviews said...

I love Arthurian novels, but it's been awhile since I've read one. Great review - this sounds like a book I'd like to read!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the lovely review, Trish! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Laura said...

First of all, you are great at writing summaries! I'm glad you enjoyed this one so seems like the type of book that you needed. I don't even know the "real" story of Trystan and Isolde, so I wouldn't notice that this one deviates. Sounds like a very enjoyable read!

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

Oh, it sounds so good! It's been on my TBR pile for one or two months now, but your review makes me eager to pick it up soon! :D

S. Krishna said...

I enjoyed this book a lot as well, though the minor characters not being developed didn't really occur to me. Great review!

TheBlackSheep said...

I'm not sure it's all that easy to know about Arthurian legends unless you've actually studied them. Every time I read a book or watch a movie, there seems to be a different take on the story. It's a bit like Robin Hood in that respect. There's a basis, but what really happened is more story than truth, and if there's no truth to stick to, there will be all the more variations. Plus, let's face it, if there is an actual honest to goodness real story, it's probably not half as interesting as the legeneds (like Robin Hood who really was just a common thief with less than merry companions).

You've given me an idea though. I really need to read Tristan and Isolde. That's another hole in my education. I am reading The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White right now, but somehow I just don't think it's the same thing...

samantha.1020 said...

This sounds like a really enjoyable read and something that I usually wouldn't pick up on my own so thanks for the review!

Anonymous said...

I have a copy of this and can't believe I still haven't read it. I love Arthurian re-tellings and this is right up my street.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Bermuda - While there is war and fighting in the background of the story, it isn’t the knight-in-shining armor type of tale. I hope you’ll give it a shot!

*Amanda - This one is a little more realistic rather than fantastical, but I know what you mean about hit and miss. I think that happens when there is SO much written about a certain legend.

*JT Oldfield - I *think* Mists of Avalon is centered around the female characters of the Arthurian legends. I’ve heard it called a feminist book, but I don’t know much more about it. This book takes place a few generations after Arthur. Oh, and it’s about 400 pages shorter! :P

*Veens - Never heard of Arthurian legends? Haven’t seen the movie First Knight or The Sword and the Stone? I think you’d like this book.

*Vivienne - I’m sure you’ve seen some of the movies about Arthur, right? :) Elliott catches the reader up on what you need to know, so no prior knowledge is necessary.

*Meghan - I thought it was a great start as well, but I kept thinking—what? No kiss? :P I’m not big on Romance but I could have done with something…

*Nymeth - Most of the characters I could remember, but some of them appeared and disappeared and then appeared again. Brychan sticks out as someone I couldn’t really remember, but I was too lazy to flip back through to see who he was. Looking forward to romance!

*Jeane - I hope you’ll try it, Jeane. It sounds kind of soap-operay, but it didn’t feel that way reading it. Just a nice tale to get caught up in. Do you have any to recommend?

*Paxton - Which Arthurian novels have been your favorites? I joined the Arthurian challenge, but so far all I’ve picked up (bought, not read) are TH White’s books. The romance is not heavy in this book at all—but the perspective is definitely more feminine.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Paxton - Which Arthurian novels have been your favorites? I joined the Arthurian challenge, but so far all I’ve picked up (bought, not read) are TH White’s books. The romance is not heavy in this book at all—but the perspective is definitely more feminine.

*Laura’s Reviews - I hope you’ll read this one Laura. It was very easy for me to get caught up in the story and not want to put the book down! Do you have any favorite Arthurian books?

*Anna Elliott - Thanks for coming by, Anna. The book was really enjoyable and I can’t wait for the second edition! Can you tell that we’re all on the edge of our seats for a little romance? :P

*Laura - Well, I don’t remember the story of Tristan and Isolde either—even after watching the movie! But even despite just a little bit of confusion at the beginning, this was exactly the book I needed! You should read it!

*Kay - Pick it up!! It's a fairly quick read and hard to put down once you get into it.

*S Krishna - I don't know if it was really that the minor characters weren't developed enough--just that I kept forgetting who was who! Glad you liked it too.

*Blacksheep - Good point about Robin Hood and the different perspectives. I agree that everyone seems to have a different take on the legends, but I guess that's what happens when they are just legends--not much actual fact to go on. This story takes place a few generations after Arthur, so it would be a good continuation of your "studies."

*Samantha - Probably not something I would seek out on my own either, but it was a really good read.

*Rhinoa - Oh, you should definitely get to your copy! There's a lot to like about this book--and of course when it has Nymeth's endorsement...! :)