Monday, October 26, 2009

TWILIGHT OF AVALON by Anna Elliott

They say history is written by the victors. Even though King Arthur bought it in his last battle, you'd think he lived victoriously by the amount of stories he spawned, even though it was his spawn which killed him. Think about it though, his wife cheated on him. Why? Well, think about that some more. Back in the Middle Ages, girls were bought and sold like cattle for the financial and political gain of men who couldn't care less if they actually liked having sex with them or not. The girls didn't get to choose their husbands and more often than not these dudes were old, fat, and butt-ugly. No wonder the penalty for women committing adultery was death. The men certainly couldn't rely on their winning personalities to keep their women faithful. Yet, at the heart of every woman is the need for love and tenderness. So, odds are good the Queen cheated on Arthur because she never loved him in the first place, if you believe they really existed. Makes sense to me and I love stories that twist things around, rather than just accepting what is commonly accepted.
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TWILIGHT OF AVALON re-writes Arthurean mythology on the idea that King Arthur was a successful ruler, but a selfish, violent jackass who raped his half-sister, Morgan, and fathered Mordred who was actually the good guy. You may remember something about Mordered trying to usurp Arthur's throne while he's away and trying to force Guinevere to marry him. In this book, Guinevere loved Mordred and was trying to get away from her abusive husband, and I say good for them. Mordred and Guinevere were the parents of Isolde, this story's heroine. Isolde was raised by her grandmother, Morgan, called a witch by the mythology we know.
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Bear in mind when you go to buy this book that the names are spelled differently. For example, Guinevere is Gwynefar.
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Isolde has it good by medieval standards. She's married off at age 13, but her husband is 12, cute, and kinda fun. He's Constantine, 'Con' to her, and he's Arthur's official heir because she's a girl. Although their marriage doesn't seem to have been a passionate love affair, they seem to like each other all right. When he's killed seven years later and barely a man, she misses him and that's where the story starts.
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Arthur's been dead for a while and Britain is dissolving more and more into violent chaos without him to unite the people. Isolde is a queen of her time, doing what she can with her healing talents to ease the pain of those around her, but she is falling into dispair as the violence mounts and no one gives a dang about things like honor. She saved a Saxon girl from being the spoils of war, but the girl is still a slave in a foreign land. Even a queen has limited power.
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Then she goes to heal the wounds of a couple of Saxon prisoners and is amazed how the older one, Tristan, cares about the younger one's comfort, honor, and failing courage. She heals the boy's fingers, even though it's likely the jailkeeper will break them again in the morning. Amazing.
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In the old romantic tale of Tristan and Isolde, she's betrothed to King Mark and he's taking her to him. Instead, Tristan and Isolde drink a love potion and run away together. Don't get hung up on that, 'kay?
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Isolde's got mounting problems of her own. She and Con had no children and once again the King of England has died without an heir, adding to the chaos as leaders fight each other for control. She tries to give voice to the situation and is called down by Madoc for being the bastard offspring of the great traitor Mordred, who killed King Arthur. He's hushed up by King Marche, a guy you really wouldn't want to turn your back on. The reason for Marche's support soon becomes clear.
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A high-born lady without a father or a husband is in a very precarious position. Con, whom she liked a lot if not loved, is hardly dead three days and already the vultures are circling. They want her land, her name, her connection to King Arthur. And Marche means to beat them all to the draw.
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I wouldn't call this a Romance novel. It's a Historical Fantasy, something I really like just as much, but Isolde drives the plot. She's a powerful woman in a time and place when women had little or none. She has medical skills easily called witchcraft if someone wants to get rid of her by seeing her burn at the stake. This and adultery are common excuses for getting rid of a wife, for example. There's little love and light around her, but she clings to hope.
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This is the kind of book I'd recommend if you have a long, boring wait ahead of you, like standing in line at the DMV, and want to be transported by your imagination away from it. It's thick, complex, and far removed from our everyday life, but definitely human enough to lock you in from the start. The writing style is enviously beautiful too.
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3 comments:

Yunaleska said...

Oooh this sounds a good one. Going through an Arthur phase at the moment (know little about it).*adds to long list of TBR pile*

Marg said...

I have had this book on my TBR list for months now! Thanks for the review!

suzie said...

This looks awesome. I'm definitely adding it to my TBR list.