Let me preface this review by stating that my knowledge of Arthurian legends are foggy at best. I’ve heard of Tristan and Isolde and have seen the movie with James Franco (yum!), but I don’t know the details of the story. I was going into this book with a nearly clean slate. For me this was a positive, but I wanted to note that Elliott’s retelling deviates a little from the most common elements in the Arthurian legends. In this book, Arthur’s wife, Guinevere, had an affair with Arthur’s son Mordred and mothered Isolde.
Twilight of Avalon is a beautifully told story of Trystan and Isolde and the beginning of their relationship during a time of change and tumult. As the story opens, Isolde, the young High Queen of Britain, is mourning the loss of her husband King Constantine. Since the time of Arthur, the kingdoms of Britain have faced constant pressure from the Saxons and with their High King dead the kingdoms need to quickly reunite in order to present a strong front against a possible Saxon invasion. After several days without a High King, Lord Marche finally takes the throne, but Isolde suspects him of murdering Con.
With Lord Marche’s rise to the throne, Isolde’s position in court becomes questionable, especially after advances come from the new king to be his wife and she is repeatedly facing accusations of sorcery and witchcraft from others in the court. Isolde flees the palace for her safety, and she runs into a small band of outlaws, among them Trystan, who she entrusts with her knowledge of her husband’s murder and Marche’s traitorous actions. I suck at summaries–this makes the book sound very soap-operay but I didn’t find it to be so. Moving on to the part I’m good at–telling you what I liked.
Isolde is a strong character, even in her moments of weakness. Her grandmother Morgan (also Arthur’s half sister) has passed her the ability of Sight but more importantly the knowledge of medicines and herbs. Even when her Sight fails her and she is left without being able to see her distant past or future, she relies on her quick-wittedness for survival. Her ability to mix salves and heal wounds not only helps save the lives of others but also her own. The question of whether Isolde is a witch surfaces throughout the book, and even though she does not necessarily have powers, so understands how to use the fears of others as an advantage.
Many of the other characters, though, were sort of a blur to me. Elliott does provide a glossary of names at the beginning of the book, but I forgot who many of them were and had to flip back through the story to see when they had appeared before. This is probably my biggest complaint about the book, and even then it is a minor complaint as the major characters are all well-developed. I enjoyed watching the characters interact with one another, especially as Trystan and Isolde’s friendship and trust developed throughout the novel. The further I got into the story the harder it was to put the book down, and even though the plot might have been a tad predictable it was still very engaging.
I would recommend this book to those who like Historical Fiction, Arthurian retellings, or just plan adventurous love stories. The writing, character development, and plot all came together very nicely and evenly in this book, which was refreshing after reading several books that were out of balance in these three things. Elliott’s writing is beautiful and if I hadn’t been so absorbed in the story I would have a nice quote to provide for you. Twilight of Avalon is the first in a trilogy, so there are several loose ends left in the novel but the ending was satisfying enough to hold me over for a few more months. I didn’t get quite enough of Trystan and Isolde in this book (romance speaking), so I look forward to that in the next edition. Hopefully.