Tag Archives: Britain

The Mists of Avalon

This book came to my attention over Christmas, when someone was looking for it for a gift. How can you not be attracted to a book about the women behind King Arthur’s throne? And as I started thinking about it, I realized I’d never actually read up on King Arthur, mostly only seen movies, which have varying timelines and storylines. So, naturally, I started down a rabbit hole.

Marion Zimmer Bradley takes a different tack by focusing very little on Arthur, and mostly on Morgain, his half-sister. Morgain is a mystic, reared in Avalon, and dedicated to saving her old religion from the sweeping tide of Christianity. The story follows the siblings from childhood through adulthood, showing where their paths started diverging and where they made choices that set their futures in stone. Each one pursued the path they felt was right, accepting the consequences of their actions and struggling to understand the bigger picture of their lives.

Right from the start, the story is full of intrigue and action. One of my early thoughts was that I could recommend this to people looking to fill the void left by Game of Thrones, it’s got so many similarities. It’s full of tangled webs of plotting and scheming, love triangles and affairs, secret children and general secrets. Betrayal. What I hadn’t expected, though I’m not sure why, was the paganism. But mixed into the story, and particularly Avalon, is Celtic religion, in all it’s pagan glory.

It was strange reading this book while at the same time going through the TV show Merlin, as the storylines are wildly different, though it seems like The Mists of Avalon follows closer to classic Arthurian legend (though, stay tuned, as I go down the rabbit hole, I may find differently).

This book took me a long time to get through, not because it was bad or tough, but because it’s almost 900 pages and I had other stuff going on. That said, it is a hefty read, with a lot of side stories that weave together to impact the narrative as a whole, though sometimes you have to wait a while for them to all tie together.

While I had some issues with the book (like not having Arthur pull Excalibur from the stone), overall I enjoyed it. It was an interesting read, and a unique way to tell the story, looking at the women behind King Arthur, and using their stories to tell his own.

So if you’re into Arthurian legend and lore, it’s definitely worth reading. Just be prepared for lots of taboo, because Bradley doesn’t hold anything back.

Also, enjoy this picture of Oscar endorsing this book.

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Last Hope Island

I’ve always been a fan of history, and World War II history in particular. So Lynn Olson’s Last Hope Island was a natural pick for me.

I’ll confess straight off though, I want quite as impressed as I’d expected to be. I was expecting a little more action, more description of battles or escapes.

That said, I still enjoyed the book. It was a close look at Britain and its relationship with several occupied countries via the governments in exile that took up residence in Britain.

It was also a close look at how those nations played key roles in the Allied win.  From spies and resistance fighters to exiled troops and politicians, countries including the Netherlands, Poland, and France, though occupied, made significant contributions that turned the tide of the war.

What I really enjoyed were the few snapshots into the lives of unsung heros, people like Andree De Jongh and Jeannie Rousseau, and other women and men who risked their lives for the cause. I found, as I read, several people that I’m now very interested in researching. Their lives and stories, in addition to just being fascinating, could also fuel some really interesting historical fiction.

Some parts of the book, though, are hard to read. It’s hard to understand the justifications for some actions, and without living it, I’d say impossible to pass any kind of judgment. But you can learn a lot about empathy from reading it.

This book is definitely a must read for history buffs, and I would say an easy enough read for anyone wanting to dip their toes in. It’s not a one-week read, for many people, I think, but it’s certainly worth the read.

Gilded Cage

For all that dystopian stories aren’t my favorite, I sure find myself reading enough of them.

Gilded Cage in the debut novel by British author Vic James.

Set in, you guessed, dystopian Britain, the country is ruled by the Equals, a select group of people who have a magical gift, called Skill. Those without, the commoners, are required to serve the Equals for 10 years.

The story follows one family that decides to serve together after the eldest daughter secures them positions with one of the founding families among the Equals. But the family is split up when the brother is sent to work in the factory town. Naturally, the eldest sister finds herself crushing on an Equal, while her brother is roped into revolutionary actions. And finally, within the Equal society, there are others who are working to overthrow the system.

The three main characters are the sister, brother, and the youngest son of the Equal family they serve. And of the three storylines, I’m most intrigued by Silyen, the Equal’s story and why he does what he does. The brother, Luke, has an interesting story, caught up with revolutionaries, but it seems quite simple and plain, revolutionaries working toward a specific and obvious end. Abi, the sister, was the story I was least interested in. At least throughout the first book, she seemed nothing more than the token love story, and a cliche one at that, falling in love with the “master,” if you will.

In the beginning we see Abi as a strong, smart, sacrificial character, giving up her full-ride to med school to serve her days with her family. However, after that initial glimpse, we see hardly anything noteworthy from her. At this point, I almost feel like a character turn-around in book two would feel out of place and unbelievable. So, needless to say, I’d be quite happy to see book two focused on Luke and Silyen, as well as Silyen’s illegitimate niece who is surrounded by nothing but questions thus far.

The story was good, the first installment of a series with potential. However it read much more like a teen novel than an adult fantasy novel, using slang including “uni” for university. The language was simple, which isn’t a bad thing, just not quite my taste. But it won’t stop me from reading a second installment, whenever it comes out, if nothing else for the conclusion to the political intrigue that underlies the entire plot.