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.
Don't forget this month's Write-Away Contest--the topic is "Going Home"
Technorati tags: book reviews, fiction, Anya Seton, Avalon