I’m always interested in treatments of King Arthur’s children and grandchildren and beyond–efforts to continue the story–so I was very excited to discover Anna Elliott’s Avalon series, which consists of a trilogy: Twilight of Avalon, Dark Moon of Avalon, and Sunrise of Avalon (the last to be published in the Fall of 2011), as well as two short stories you can download at Amazon from Kindle, or from Elliott’s website: http://www.annaelliottbooks.com/
Elliott’s books seek to place the Tristan and Isolde legend into a new and perhaps more historically correct context within the Arthurian canon. The Tristan stories have always been a sort of digression from the main tales of Arthur and his knights, just plopped into Malory and other works, and not really feeling like they belong there. Elliott bases her versions on the knowledge that Tristan probably lived a couple of generations after Arthur in late 5th/early 6th century Britain, so she sets the novels in the post-Arthurian era.
Isolde is the main character of the series through whose eyes we see almost everything with occasional switches to Trystan’s viewpoint and even Morgan’s. Isolde is actually Arthur and Morgan’s granddaughter, the daughter of Mordred and Guinevere. In earlier versions of the Arthurian legend, Mordred is said to have sons by Guinevere (see my earlier post While King Arthur was Away did Guinevere with Mordred Play?), but never a daughter. However, I found Isolde being made into Arthur’s granddaughter to be an interesting change.
Isolde is viewed as a sort of trophy wife by the Britons–the heir to Arthur, but a woman unable to inherit, and the local Britons view her more as the traitor’s daughter than the great king’s granddaughter. When the first book opens, Isolde is grieving the death of her husband Constantine “Con” who was chosen to succeed Arthur, and who in legend is the traditional heir of Arthur after Camlann. Isolde soon realizes her husband was most likely murdered and the primary culprit is Lord Marche (Elliot’s version of King Mark of Cornwall, though I don’t understand why she felt the need to change the name’s spelling). Marche now seeks to wed Isolde, although she is rather appalled by the idea. Isolde also encounters Trystan, who is in a prison, and as the novel progresses, she realizes he is Marche’s son and her former playmate as a child. Trystan despises his father (who does not recognize him). With Isolde’s help he manages to escape from prison.
By the second book, Marche wants to become High King of Britain, but Madoc instead is crowned. Marche then seeks to ally himself with the Saxons and it is up to Isolde and Trystan to stop him from trying to seize the crown.
I won’t give away more of the plot than that, and we will have to wait to see how things turn out in the third book. It’s sufficient to say though that King Arthur’s great-grandchild is likely to be born soon based on how the second book ends.
In addition, Elliott creates a bastard son for Arthur, Amhar, based on legendary versions of his son Amir, one of the original sons given to Arthur in Welsh legend; Amhar died at Camlann, several years before the novels open, so he does not figure as a character in the novels, though his mother, Arthur’s mistress, does slightly. Elliott does not mention Llacheu or Gwydre, Arthur’s other two obscure sons in the Welsh legends.
I was really intrigued with Elliott’s ideas for these books and how she maneuvered the characters’ places in the legend. I have to admit, however, that I didn’t think the writing equaled the concept. The books were overly long – each runs about 420 pages, which is typical of Arthurian novels, but I felt Elliott’s scenes dragged and each could have been as much as half as long. I found myself skimming through most of the second book, reading just the dialogue and a sentence here and there of the description to see what would happen. I also never really figured out why she used “Avalon” in the titles since no scenes take place there. “Camelot” might have been more fitting.
Despite my not caring for Elliott’s writing, I will probably read the third book when it is out because of my interest in depictions of King Arthur’s descendants, and I am curious to read her two short stories, one about Morgan and Merlin and the other about Dera, a secondary character in Twilight of Avalon. Other readers may enjoy the books more than I did; before you buy, view free excerpts and download the short stories free at Elliott’s site. I suspect female readers will enjoy the books more than male because they are told more from a woman’s perspective.
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com