Twilight of Avalon


In Arthurian fiction, queens tend to fall into two groups: the powerful and the powerless. Anna Elliott places Isolde among the latter. To a large extent this is because she sets her version of the story of Trystan (as she calls him here) and Isolde in a brutal Dark Age (6th-century) Britain. It is Isolde’s misfortune to have lost her male protectors at a time when women badly need them, and to make matters worse she is mistrusted by almost everyone, for is she not the daughter of Modred, Arthur’s son by incest with his half sister Morgan? And of Gwynefar, who betrayed her husband? And did not her father’s rebellion lead to the disaster at Camlann? And is she not a healer like her grandmother, a reputed sorceress? She was wed to Constantine, Arthur’s heir, but now he lies dead, and the rulers of Britain, gathered to choose a successor, view her with suspicion, if not outright hostility.

Surrounded by enemies, she is forced to marry the vicious Marche, King of Cornwall, who predictably mistreats her. She desperately needs a protector, but this is no medieval romance. Trystan, when he does appear, spends most of his time in a prison cell, leaving Isolde to struggle desperately for survival, not only for herself but for all Britain as well, in the fortress of Tintagel and on the wild moor to which she flees. Indeed, she helps him more than he does her.

This, the first book of a trilogy, is a dark vision, inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account of disunity and treachery among the British leaders, and it maintains powerful tension throughout as it exposes the suffering of those affected by their cruelty and shortsightedness. Strongly recommended.


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