Original publication date: 2009
My edition: 2009 (Touchstone)
Why I decided to read: Vague interest in Arthurian legends/early medieval history.
How I acquired my copy: bought with a giftcard at Barnes & Noble.
I have to say right off the bat that this book wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I was expecting (and maybe dreading, a bit) a fantasy-ish retelling of the Trystan and Isolde story. But what Anna Elliott does here, to my delighted surprise, is combine elements of the legends with what is known about the early Middle Ages—in this case, the invasions of the Saxons in the 5th and 6th centuries. Most of the Trystan and Isolde stories are based on those written down in the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, and are therefore done in the tradition of courtly romances. Anna Elliott’s rendition is much more realistic.
The story opens just after the death of Isolde’s husband Constantine, the High King of Britain. Immediately, Lord Marche begins jockeying for power, quickly becoming the High King. Isolde escapes marriage with him; becoming acquainted with a prisoner named Trystan. At first he called himself , or stranger, is an appropriate description; he’ half-Briton and half-Saxon, yet neither at the same time. The novel, which is the first in a trilogy, is told primarily from the point of view of Isolde, but I suspect further books in the series will tell the story from Trystan’s side, too. This book is not a straight romance, as the relationship between Isolde and Tystan is just beginning to evolve here. I expect much more to happen in further books.
As I’ve said before, I went into the reading of the book as a skeptic—not only because I thought it would be more fantasy, but also because I was skeptical of the idea of the whole healer aspect. I also thought that there would be a lot more magic here, and there isn’t—Isolde has lost her powers, but they’re really still there, hiding underneath the surface. I was a bit out of my comfort zone; I don’t usually read novels based on the Arthurian legends. But this book was a completely unique one. It’s interesting how the author managed to use written versions of the Trytan and Isolde story in order to return it to the way the stories were originally told—orally. I loved how the author incorporated the historical elements into the story, grounding it in reality while at the same time stay more or less true to the oral tradition of storytelling (which is a major theme of this novel).
Not only is the setting very real, but the characters are, too. For a trilogy to work properly, you have to make it so that the reader is drawn into the lives of the characters enough so that they want to read on. I definitely will be reading more in this trilogy; the next book, Dark Moon of Avalon, comes out in May, and I can’t wait! All in all, a really strong start to what promises to be an exciting trilogy.
Also reviewed by: The Literate Housewife Review