Posts Tagged ‘The Firebrand’

In one word, my answer is sadly, “No.” A couple of months ago, I published a glowing review of Ravens of Avalon which I thought had redeemed the series for me, and I also liked Priestess of Avalon quite a bit, but I just could not get very attached to Sword of Avalon.

Sword of AvalonInitially, I was excited about reading this book. After all, it was going to tell me how Excalibur came to be, and I thought we would be making progress in the series. One aspect of this series I don’t understand is that there is no progression to the books. They are written to jump about in time. Priestess of Avalon takes place in the third century, then Ancestors of Avalon is centuries earlier, then Ravens of Avalon is set in the first century, and now Sword of Avalon takes place around 1,000 B.C. I just don’t get it. What’s the point of all this jumping around? Why wasn’t the sword then in Ravens or Priestess? There’s no real overarching plan to this series. I keep thinking each successive book should move chronologically forward, bringing us up to The Mists of Avalon, but there is no such plan. And I keep hoping for a sequel to The Mists of Avalon—I want to know what happened to Morgan le Fay, but no satisfaction there either.

But I was excited to read this book when I saw that part of the story would take place in Greece a generation or two after the Trojan War. I thought, “Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote The Firebrand about the Fall of Troy, and after The Mists of Avalon, it’s my favorite of her books. Will Diana Paxson connect the stories, maybe play off the interesting twist at the end of The Firebrand that Cassandra lived and had children—so that maybe she is also an Ancestor of Avalon? But no—no such connection.

Instead, there’s a boy named Mikantor who is saved by the Lady of Avalon during the burning of a village in Britain. She must hide Mikantor because he’s heir to the sacred kings descended from Atlantis, placing this books timeline after Ancestors. That’s basically the story. There’s also a bad guy named Galid, a chieftain who suspects Mikantor is alive and wants him dead. When Mikantor is a young man, he is kidnapped by pirates and ends up in Greece where he befriends the man who will one day make Excalibur. Together they will return to Britain. You can guess what happens when they do.

Galid is one of the least inspired villains I have ever experienced. Other than one or two successful dramatic scenes, there was nothing about this book that interested me. I found myself struggling to get through it. Every time I sat down, I tried to get back into it but after five or ten pages I was bored. The last couple of hundred pages, I could do nothing more than skim through and just read the dialogue, to see how it would all turn out, which was quite predictable.

I hate to say it, but Marion Zimmer Bradley is dead. So is this series. I hope this book has put it to rest so Marion can rest in peace. The Mists of Avalon was a tremendous achievement that changed modern Arthurian fiction—in fact, it is my all time favorite novel, which is saying a lot since I love Dickens, Trollope, Galsworthy and so many other great authors—but even though a couple of the other books in this series have been enjoyable, none of them are really very relevant to Arthurian fiction. I respect Paxson as a writer because I know she has skill from what she showed in a couple of the books, but I can only thinks she is just as bored with this series as her readers. No one will ever write another The Mists of Avalon, so it’s time to accept that and move on. Since it’s been three years since this book was published, I’m hoping Paxson and her publishers have realized that too.


Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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Debra Kemp, author of The House of Pendragon series is one of the many modern novelists creating children for King Arthur. Here is my discussion of her work from my book King Arthur’s Children:

Debra Kemp took the idea of King Arthur’s daughter to new lengths by beginning her The House of Pendragon series. So far, two of the three novels of the series have been published, The Firebrand (2003) and The Recruit (2007).

            While Vera Chapman’s King Arthur’s Daughter first covered this territory, Kemp is far more detailed in her imagining of a daughter for Arthur. Some of the first novel’s suspense is lost because we know from the back cover, and the frame of the novel, that Lin is King Arthur’s daughter, although she does not know this herself. Lin was kidnapped at an early age by Arthur’s sister, Morgause, and it was believed the boat she was on, enroute to the Orkney Isles, had sunk and she had died. Actually, Morgause had taken her to Orkney and made her a slave. Lin grows up believing she is the daughter of a slave woman, and except for the kindness of her foster-brother David and a few of the other slaves, she knows a life of relentless hardship. When Prince Modred decides specifically to torture her and make her his plaything, her life becomes nearly unbearable, yet Lin is of iron nature, so she refuses to give up until finally she learns the truth of her heritage.

            Debra Kemp continues the story of Princess Lin in The Recruit. Here Lin comes to Camelot to find she is expected by her mother, Guinevere, to act like the perfect lady, learning to sew, and to prepare herself for a dynastic marriage that will provide stability to the kingdom. Lin will have none of it. After some initial struggles with her mother, Lin convinces her father, King Arthur, to let her join the army. She becomes “the recruit” and proves herself capable of serving as well as any man in the army. From barroom brawls to guard duty, Lin continually proves herself as worthy of her sire.

            What I actually find most interesting about these two novels is the frame that surrounds them. Kemp begins the first novel with Lin speaking just after the Battle of Camlann and the death of Arthur and Modred. There is no prophecy here that Arthur will come again, but rather Lin pretends Arthur will return to keep up the hope of the people. Then the book shifts forward a number of years; Lin is married to Gaheris and has been raising her family, not revealing to her own children that they are the Pendragon’s grandchildren. She has journeyed back to Camelot now and is considering taking back reign over the kingdom. It is then that she tells her story to her oldest son, technically named Arthur, but called Bear by the family. She tells her son of her days as a slave in Orkney and how she found out she is King Arthur’s daughter. The frame also makes it clear that Lin will become a great warrior.

            Kemp is currently working on the third and final volume of the series. I am curious whether, besides depicting the events that lead up to the fall of Camelot and the Battle of Camlann, Kemp will show Lin’s life in more detail after the Battle of Camlann—will Lin establish a united kingdom again? Will the story of Camelot have a new ending?

For more about Debra Kemp and The House of Pendragon series, visit her on Facebook and her website at: http://www.telltalepress.com/debrakemp.html





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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com


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