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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
My paperback copy of The Mists of Avalon is a worn and tattered wreck, but I would never trade it in for a new one. In fact, rather than lend it to friends, I'd buy them their own copies! Were I an author and saw such a tattered copy of my book, I'd take it as a great compliment, for it shows that my words had enough influence on someone for them to read them over and over again. Marion Zimmer Bradley's novels have that very effect on me. Her worlds are so vivid and her characters so human that I find myself completely absorbed by them.
I discovered Bradley very early in my fantasy-reading experience, and it didn't take me long to run the gamut of her titles -- science fiction and fantasy alike. I have great respect for her writing talent and her unique ability to masterfully address the human psyche from the character's perspective. Bradley revisited the land of Avalon in novel form three times before her death. I ripped through each and every one of them and enjoyed them all immensely. And I know I am not alone in this -- The Mists of Avalon is one of the foremost books written from the female perspective on Arthurian legend.
Priestess of Avalon was an unfinished manuscript, but Diana L. Paxson, an accomplished author in her own right, completed it for Bradley posthumously. Here then, is the fourth -- and last -- installment of the Avalon series. It is the only book in the series that travels beyond the boundaries of the British Isles, but it legitimately keeps to Bradley's tradition of a story told through the eyes of a strong female character.
Priestess of Avalon shares many characters with another book in the series, Lady of Avalon. This is Eilan's story and follows her through the three stages of life: maiden, mother and old woman. Eilan is a somewhat historical figure of whom much is unknown. It is delightful to read the history Bradley and Paxson fabricated for her. Eilan was born in A.D. 249 to the Roman citizen King Coel and the High Priestess of Avalon, who died while bearing her. She is sent to live with her Roman father, where she is known by the Roman version of her name, Helen. After a decade with King Coel, Eilan returns to Avalon to be initiated into the sisterhood of the goddess.
As a maiden, Eilan again attaches herself to Rome when she falls in love with the charismatic Roman Constantius. The Roman noble takes her away from Avalon and, before long, Helen bears him a son, who later becomes Constantine the Great. Helen's status in Roman society allows her freedom to travel about in the Pax Romana. As Helen is confronted by the spread of the new Christian religion, she draws frequently from her own knowledge of the goddess to deal with her life and with the people that surround her. Like the other Avalon books, Helen's story is told from the woman's point of view. Violence and wars are addressed, but not from the battlefield itself. Rather, they are told as important incidents in the way that they directly affect Helen.
Priestess of Avalon does not disappoint. It doesn't really matter if you have read the other Avalon books or not -- all of the Avalon stories stand well on their own. If you have read the other Avalon books and were sorrowful that no more would be forthcoming after Bradley passed away, then rejoice! Priestess of Avalon fits into the rest of the series very smartly. Diana L. Paxson has does an excellent job of honoring her mentor and does credit to the spirit of Bradley's writing. Priestess of Avalon is a more than fitting eulogy to Marion Zimmer Bradley's memory. (Sierra Phillips)