Twilight of Avalon by Anna Elliott
The Arthurian legends have what seems to be a very lasting place in Anglo-Saxon culture. Even those of us who are not very knowledgeable about the details of the legend generally are at least familiar with Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and the Knights of the Round Table. Perhaps the Lady in the Lake, as well. A good many of us have also seen Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone,” particularly if we were children in the 1980s.
For “Twilight of Avalon,” Anna Elliott went back to some of the earliest records of the Arthurian legends and attempted to base her story squarely in the 6th century, against the backdrop of the invading Saxons. Elliott begins her story immediately after Isolde’s husband, High King Constantine, is killed during a battle against the Saxons. Although her second sight has been gone for years, Isolde receives a vision that lets her know that her husband did not simply die of battle wounds. A lone woman in 6th century Britain, reviled by many for the deeds of her father and grandmother and widely believed to be a sorceress, Isolde must rely on every ounce of strength and intelligence she posesses not to end up dead or as the chattel of one of the other kings.
Although worried for herself and Britain, Isolde is a compassionate woman and goes to take food to two Saxon prisoners in the castle. Although much of her concentration is originally on the young boy with the broken wrists, there is something about the older prisoner – a man she swears is Briton-born and yet working for the Saxons – that strangely draws Isolde to him and seems to recall to her memories of her childhood. Although she knows little about him, Isolde and the strange man, Trystan, must work together however reluctantly to save both their lives and the kingdom.
I really haven’t read much historical fantasy or really anything about the Arthurian legends, so I am not sure how “Twilight of Avalon” compares in that sense, but it was a very well-written and engaging book. I would sit down to read and suddenly realize that I had just read 100 pages in what felt like a matter of minutes, completely unaware that I had flipped the pages that many times. This story read very much like good historical fiction, which I think is what Elliott was going for, trying to take the Arthurian legends back before even their initial records to what could have been their historical genesis. She also included a lovely author’s note in the end to this effect, explaining how and why she wrote the book as she did, which as you probably know, I love.
Don’t go into this hearing ‘Trystan and Isolde’ and expecting an epic romance. Romance was patently not the point of this story, which I think worked to its benefit. This 6th century Britain was no magical Camelot, even if mystical legends had already began to circulate about Arthur, dead for less than a generation.
Whether you are interested in the Arthurian legends, want to get a feel for 6th century Britain, or simply want to read some good pseudo-historical fiction, I would absolutely recommend “Twilight of Avalon.”
“Twilight of Avalon” is the first book in a trilogy. There’s already a sneak peek available of the next book, so check it out!