Friday, April 04, 2008

Avalon

Avalon by Anya SetonAvalon by Anya Seton

by Anya Seton

I like to comb through the discard bins at the library and every once in a while I'll get lucky and find one with an intriguing title. Last time I picked up Avalon by Anya Seton and though it didn't have a dust jacket I figured with a title like that I had a better than average chance of finding a fun read.

Sure enough, Avalon is set in 1000 A.D. Europe and follows the paths of Merewyn, a Cornish girl who's family is descended from King Arthur, and Rumon, an aristocratic Burgundian out to seek his fortune. The cover here makes it look pret-ty darn exciting doesn't it? (Of course I didn't have the benefit of a cover or maybe I would have read it a lot sooner!)

Anyway, I love historical fiction, especially the stuff written in the early 20th century--knights, pirates, princesses, rags-to-riches, famous people--in an historical fiction you can delude yourself into thinking that you're not just reading any plain old novel, you're reading history which makes you feel just a little bit smarter than your husband who's busy watching American Idol. Not much but a little.

I knew absolutely nothing about 10th century Europe, other than it came after the 9th century and before the 11th. I'm afraid my knowledge begins at approximately Edward the Confessor, and even that's a little shaky--I couldn't begin to tell you what he supposedly confessed for example. But this book starts out with Britain divided and being pillaged at regular intervals by Viking raiders (sounds pretty good huh?) Rumon is shipwrecked on the Cornish coast which is so primitive it makes Braveheart look like the Tech Age.

There he meets Merewyn who is star-struck by his looks and fancy duds and the two of them end up traveling to the English court together, meeting assorted companions along the way. At court Queen Alfrida, the famous Anglo-Saxon regent, makes her entrance and things get substantially more complicated until we eventually follow Rumon and Merewyn to Iceland, Greenland, Ireland and the New World (though NOT necessarily in that order).

Seton sprinkles in various real historical figures for good measure such as St. Dunstan, Eric the Red, Leif Ericson and even my faithful Edward the Confessor at the end which lends enough authenticity to the tale to keep me reading along with our hero and heroine. A lot of it is very standard stuff: she's beautiful and young but he doesn't recognize it at first, there are dangerous women out to make his life very difficult, things shift back and forth for 200 pages, Vikings enter the scene every once in a while just to keep that rising action going and then--well, you'll have to read it for yourself.

I liked it. Quite a bit, not a fabulous book but definitely fun to read and respectable as an historical novel--reminds me of Tristan and Isolde--and I could see them making it into a movie or something though Hollywood would probably spice it up quite a bit, there are a few juicy scenes in there, but juicy by the 1950s sense of the word, not quite in the Danielle Steele sense and still pretty tame. I'm seeing Bryce Dallas Howard and Joaquim Phoenix together again to play the leads--maybe with an Angelina Jolie as Alfrida just for kicks and some added scariness.

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Don't forget this month's Write-Away Contest--the topic is "Going Home"

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20 comments:

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

The inevitable comparison is to Mists of Avalon. Have you read that? I LOVED LOVED LOVED that book, though Christianity isn't painted in the best light ever. But some of the pagans are weird as well. On the off chance that you haven't heard of it, it's the story of King Arthur, told by his sister/lover's point of view, among others. LOVED it.

Scribbit said...

Actually I think I saw part of the movie version maybe--I'm thinking that there was the actress from ER if I'm remembering correctly, like I said I only saw part.

Though this is called Avalon, it actually doesn't have anything to do with Arthur other than she's supposed to be descended from him and the hero is searching for his version of "Avalon." It's more symbolic than Arthurian.

Fuji Mama said...

I found you through Zakka Life. I love your blog!

Anonymous said...

Did you find it at Lousac, because I think I saw it there and passed it by. Bummmer! Well I got a copy of Ben Hur which I've never read. :-) Gotta love the give-away tables.

Robin said...

Sounds like a good read. I really enjoyed the Mists of Avalon trilogy, so a peek into "what happened later", even if totally unconnected, would be fun.

Jubilee on Earth said...

I love book recommendations! I'm going to have to check this out, because I adore historical fiction, too. Have you ever read the Diana Gabaldon series? If not, go get Outlander. It's a historical novel set in Scotland, and it's SO well-researched. They're awesome books.

Thanks! Have a great weekend...

~Maria

Chris said...

I've wanted to read this one for a while. My book list is loooong!

Bertie said...

I love these kind of historical fiction books too. Thanks for the recommendation:) It is always fun to get "lost" sometimes!

Janet said...

Oh I want to read this. My graduate school work was medieval literature, and I've read most of the modern things (especially Mists of Avalon, plus it's prequels). You're right, Julianna Marguiles was in the movie. I love historial fiction too. If you go the Mists route, read them in order:
The Forest House, Lady of Avalon, Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley).

Traci said...

Anya Seton has some really sweet books. One of my favorite ever - that I haven't thought of recently and now want to check out again - is Katherine. It was one of my breaks into the historical fiction genre (after Gone With the Wind) and the themes in it are so poignant and beautiful. Thanks for this review - I'm going to go explore some of Seton's other stuff now.

Scribbit said...

Yes I found it at Loussac, I found some more good stuff there just this week. Something by Thomas Costain.

No, I haven't read Diana Gabaldon though I know she's popular, she's been at a couple of the writers conferences I've been to and seems nice.

Janet--so how did you like the Beowulf movie? :) Just seeing the ads irritated me. I know it's more based on the graphic novel rather than the actual work but still . . .

Irritating.

Lei said...

I need to read a good book... you know a GOOD book. I'm tired ofall the light reading I've been through lately!

Motherhood for Dummies said...

hey Michelle I don't know if you are up for it but I am passing a long a tagged meme to you. I think it is actually a kind of fun one :) Love yea!

Granny J said...

As an obvious "greybeard" (wrong sex) among this crowd, may I recommend two authors from the early 1900s who wrote rollicking good historicals:

#1) Rafael Sabatini, esp. Scaramouche, an absolutely grand French revolution romp...

#2) Harold Lamb, who did fictionalized biographies of great men in history.

BTW,the other great modern Arthurian set was written by Mary Stewart. HIghly recommended!

Hazel said...

OK -- you beat me to it. Anya Seton has to be on my list of favourite authors which I keep meaning to sort out and send you -- except that, for me, it has to be "Katherine" as the favourite Seton book. So I'll put these suggestions in a comment here.
Try Georgette Heyer (not Simon the Coldheart but any of the others are really good), Margaret Campbell Barnes and Norah Lofts for the historical novels, Jane Duncan for social history through her "My Friend(s)" series.

Daisy said...

I love the bargain bins. If I don't like the book, it's okay because I didn't pay much for it in the first place. If I love it, I'll read it again and again. What a deal!

ames said...

ooh, that sounds like a good one! I'll give it a go, I *love* historical fiction, esp. that time period.

If you like a little less love story/a little more military tactics, Jack Whyte wrote about the pre-King Arthur people (including Merlin) with a very ex-Roman army angle...around 7 or 8 books, I really loved them.

Heather said...

Sounds like a great read!

Annie said...

It's now on my list of books to read. I'm sure you really wanted to know that! :)

Rhonda said...

Oh my goodness... Anya Seton is one of my favorite authors. I LOVED her book "Katherine." We named our first daughter after the main figure in the book... Katherine.

She just had a way of bringing her characters to life.

Great post.