Twilight of Avalon, a debut novel by Anna Elliott, is the first book in the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, which tells the story of Trystan and Isolde with an Arthurian backstory. The second book in this historical fantasy series, Dark Moon of Avalon, will be released on May 11, 2010.
The story takes place in sixth century Great Britain and is partially based on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Isolde, the main character, is the daughter of Modred and Gwynefar, who left Arthur for his and Morgan’s son. At a young age, Isolde was married to Arthur’s heir Constantine and became High Queen of Britain.
At the beginning of this novel, King Constantine has just died. According to the men who bring the king’s corpse back, he was killed by enemy Saxons; however, Isolde had a vision of his death and knows that someone actually murdered him in his sleep. While she did not see the face of the one who stabbed the king, she believes it was part of a plot by Lord Marche to become High King in her husband’s place. There is only one Isolde trusts with this secret – Myrddin, whom she asks to deliver a message to Drustan to send aid so that the throne of Britain does not fall into a murderer’s hands. Meanwhile, the British kingdom is thrown into turmoil while the kings fight over who should take the place of the High King.
Twilight of Avalon was one of those books that didn’t really work for me. Toward the beginning, I was very interested when Myrddin said, “No man – or woman, either – is entirely villain or hero, except perhaps in the memories of those who remain.” He had been talking about Arthur and how shocked he would be by the exaggerated tales of his heroic feats that persisted after his death. I find this concept of how real events become myth very fascinating and was also intrigued since I was expecting it to deal with complex characters.
Perhaps I’m just spoiled because I have read books that use this theme that I found better (for instance, Jack Whyte’s Camulod Chronicles which dealt a lot with how the Arthurian legend could have developed out of mostly realistic events). Of course, this story was also less about Arthur and more about Isolde and what came after Arthur, so it may not be fair to judge it based on that. Maybe I was too distracted by the Arthurian elements that were woven into the story than I should have been since they are really only a small part of it. However, even aside from that, I found many parts of this book very boring. It seemed to take forever to get the point and I never really cared for any of the characters, even Isolde. I could admire Isolde for her compassion and inner strength, but in spite of that I never really connected with her or became very attached to her.
Also, the villain really did seem to have no redeemable qualities at all in spite of the fact that no man is supposed to be a villian or a hero according to Myrrdin. He is always very vile, especially horrible toward women and is never shown to have a single shred of decency. Unfortunately, I prefer to read about characters who do fit more with the view Myrrdin expressed and villains that seem purely evil do not normally appeal to me.
Toward the end of the book, it did begin to pick up a bit, but it took far too long to get going, especially considering it was not too difficult to see where it was going ahead of time. There were so many scenes with Isolde helping the sick that just did not seem that relevant. They showed she had compassion and wasn’t really the witch people thought she was, but I found most of them really hard to slog through. Honestly, this was one of those books I was relieved to be done with.
This was a fairly historical version of the Trystan/Isolde Arthurian setting – there were a few fantastic elements, such as the visions Isolde had, but most of it was non-magical and seemed as though it really could have happened. I do tend to like that sort of story, but since I have already read several Arthurian retellings that find everyday explanations for a lot of the myths that I felt were much better, this aspect of the novel fell short for me.
One part of the novel I did rather like was the presentation of the Isolde/Trystan relationship, which was not romantic. Since this is going to be a trilogy, I suspect it will end up that way, but even if it does, I think it’s a nice touch that Isolde didn’t automatically fall in melodramatic love with Trystan at first, second or third sight. Isolde is not pining over Trystan at all, and instead seems to feel friendship and respect for Trystan.
For the most part, Twilight of Avalon failed to engage me and was often outright dull. Even though Isolde was a respectable heroine, I just never really cared about her or any of the other characters – or found any of them particularly interesting to read about. The novel had a couple of good points in its favor and did improve toward the end, but I still do not find myself wanting to read the next book.
My Rating: 4/10
Where I got my reading copy: The author sent me a copy.