Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword of Avalon

Written by Diana L. Paxson
Review by Ray Thompson

The popularity of The Mists of Avalon (1982) by Marion Zimmer Bradley generated a series that has outlasted the author’s death. Paxson, who has herself written several fine Arthurian novels, here describes the forging of Arthur’s sword Excalibur from meteor iron (as Bradley mentions in Mists) at the end of the Bronze Age (around 1200 BCE). Aware that the inhabitants of Britain lacked the knowledge to work iron, Paxson has Mikantor, the heir to the high kingship, abducted and sold to traders from the Mediterranean. He ends up in Mykenae as slave to Velantos, who is not only a prince of Tiryns but a smith. They survive the fall of the city before the invading Dorians and eventually make their way back to Britain. Armed with the sword forged by Velantos, Mikantor defeats his enemies and claims the high kingship.

These events take place in the context of a matriarchal society that invests authority in its queens and priestesses, the latter led by Anderle, the Lady of Avalon. Their attempts to control fractious kings and ambitious lords, however, meet with mixed success, made none the easier by their own human feelings. So it is that Anderle’s daughter Tirilan rejects her holy calling out of love for Mikantor.

This is historical fantasy, where priestesses communicate by a mental link and where the Lady of the Forge (Athena), speaking through Anderle, instructs the smith in the mysteries of iron working; in other respects, the setting (matriarchy, metal-working, wet weather) is historically plausible. Like its predecessors, this novel sprawls somewhat as it shifts point of view among the characters, and the unfamiliar names are confusing. Paxson nevertheless weaves an involving story of heroism and romance. Recommended.