If you pick up this novel expecting a story along the lines of the 2006 film Tristan and Isolde, or the Wagner opera by the same name, you may be surprised to find that this one is nothing like a courtly medieval romance despite the cover blurb that mentions friendship turning to love. Elliott returns to the earliest versions of the Arthurian legends and weaves a story that is part legend and part original fiction. Isolde is mourning the death of her husband, King Constantine, who was King Arthur’s heir to the throne of Britain. The petty kings are scrambling for position, eager to fill the empty throne of the High King. Isolde suspects that Con was murdered by Lord Marche, a character so obviously the “bad guy” that he might as well be wearing a black hat. Isolde, known for her healing skills, meets up with wounded mercenary Trystan in the prison cells of castle Tintagel and they team up to try and save Britain from both the evil Marche and the invading Saxons.
I appreciate the research that went into the writing of this novel and the fact that Elliott put a new twist on an old story. Where it fell down for me was in the writing and editing. In this world “tightness around the mouth” represents every emotion from anger to pain to alarm. Faces are “tight with weariness”. Isolde must tend to the wounds of literally every character in this book with mind numbing repetitiveness. Castle walls “stand out black and jagged as broken teeth against the black of the sky.” Huh? Black stands out against black? Where was the editor when the word “trail” was used for “trial” twice in the space of two pages? There were quite a few of these mistakes throughout the book and once I started noticing them it was hard not to start actually looking for them. Unfortunately they weren’t that hard to find.
This is the first in a planned trilogy of books, the next being Dark Moon of Avalon due out in the spring of 2010.