Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dawn of Avalon & The Witch Queen's Secret by Anna Elliott.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anna Elliott's novella Dawn of Avalon is set at the beginning of Arthurian legend, and tells the story of Morgan first meeting Merlin, and of Merlin first meeting the future King Arthur.

The narrator of this tale is a young Morgan Le Fay, half-sister to Arthur, who holds the power of The Sight (an ability to see the future). Dressed as a boy and under the guise of an assistant to the Druid Bron, Morgan is sent into Dinas Emrys to spy on Vortigen, enemy of her father, Uther. Whilst at Dinas Emrys, her abilities as a healer are required to tend to the wounds of a young Merlin, captured by Vortigen, and tortured endlessly for information that Merlin either cannot or will not divulge.

Merlin cannot remember his past, but like Morgan, he too can see the future, and as such they are both aware of the roles they will play in the life and death of their future king, Arthur. Together they set in motion the events that will bring about the defeat of Vortigen, and give birth to what is known today as the Arthurian legend.

Elliott has made Morgan Le Fay an innocent, likeable character, aware of what she will become but knowing she is powerless to stop it. Merlin is represented as a young man with no past, perfect to be moulded into the legendary wizard. The manner in which Elliott brings these two characters together feels as though it was the will of the Gods, who have carefully steered each onto the other's life path.

Even though Morgan and Merlin play important roles in Arthurian legend, it was refreshing to read a story where Arthur himself plays a minor part: It may be Arthur who becomes the focus of the myth, but it was the people around him that made it happen.

For me, Morgan Le Fay has always been one of the most intriguing characters of King Arthur's court, and I love that she is the narrator of this story. Elliott's passion for Arthurian legend is evident in this novella, which is well-researched, brilliantly written and easy to read. Elliott brings these characters out of myth and legend and makes them feel like real people.

The only disappointment was that this wasn't a full-length novel: Since having finished it, I find myself often thinking of this story, and of Elliott's Morgan and Merlin, who have clearly left a lasting impression. I harbour not-so-secret hopes that Elliott re-works this as a novel, or uses it as the beginning of another Arthurian-based series, told from the perspective of these two characters.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Witch Queen's Secret is a mini-novella that squeezes itself between the first two novels (Twilight of Avalon and Dark Moon of Avalon) of the author's Trystan and Isolde series.

It tells the story of Dera, a minor character in Twilight of Avalon, who has returned to Dinas Emrys to seek aid from the Lady Isolde when her son, Jory, falls ill. During her time spent at Dinas Emrys, she and Isolde learn of a treasonous plot, and Dera decides to risk her life and become a spy for the Lady Isolde in an attempt uncover the truth.

As with all of Elliott's work, The Witch Queen's Secret is well-written and researched, yet I found myself unable to enjoy this story as much as her others, even though Dera is an inherently likeable character: Down on her luck after her husband dies and with a young son to feed she is forced to become an army harlot just to survive, and after such a hard road travelled it is impossible not to want her story to end well. However, The Witch Queen's Secret ends so suddenly that Dera and Jory don't receive the solid conclusion and happy ending that I so badly wanted them to have, and which I feel they both deserved.

I would have liked more - another chapter or two at least! I can't help but feel that it was over just as it was starting to develop and take shape.

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