The Bones of Avalon

Written by Phil Rickman
Review by Doug Kemp

England 1560, and the young Queen Elizabeth is still settling into her new throne. Whilst trying to usher in a new time of post-Marian religious tolerance, she is also subject to Catholic whispers about her legitimacy to reign. It is therefore decided that the ancient links with King Arthur need to be reaffirmed. To achieve this, Elizabeth’s trusted conjuror and astrologer Dr John Dee and her advisor/lover Robert Dudley are despatched to Glastonbury to find these relics and bring them to London. Whilst in this town that lives uneasily alongside the ruined abbey and the adjacent mysterious Tor, Dee and Dudley uncover a vicious hornet’s nest of murder, conspiracy, treachery, witchcraft, a great secret about the landscape and the Zodiac and even the surprising presence of the French magus Nostradamus. Even in the 16th century, Rickman portrays Glastonbury as a magnet for all sorts of New Age oddities!

This is a supremely well-plotted and intriguing novel. The large cast characters resonate with personality and life and the author gauges the dialogue just about right – neither gratingly contemporary, or ploddingly and faux-arcane “Elizabethan”. The mystery that Dee uncovers is absorbing in its complexity and narrative.

Phil Rickman is more renowned for his Merrily Watkins series of paranormal stories in the M.R. James tradition. This has scope to be the first in another highly-regarded series and is ragingly well-written and entertaining historical fiction.