Marion Zimmer Bradley
& Diana Paxson,
Priestess of Avalon
(Viking, 2001)

After Marion Zimmer Bradley's death, everyone knew that the bestselling world of The Mists of Avalon had come to an end. Yet the author surprised us yet again with a posthumous publication of a brand new adventure in Priestess of Avalon.

The main character is Eilan, known to the world as Julia Helena, mother to Emperor Constantine. She begins her adventures born on the sacred isle of Avalon, and then spends her life caught between the glorious Roman Empire and the quiet magic of her true homeland in Britain. From the island, she follows her love, Constantius, back to his homeland and bears him a son, whom she knows to be the child of destiny. Joy and tragedy mix through Eilan's life as she learns what it means to be a true Roman mother and wife. But as she continues her journey through magic and history alike, ties continue to draw her towards Avalon, the island hidden in the magical mists.

This book blends the magical world of Avalon with ancient Rome, combining plenty of historical figures with the druidic customs of Bradley's own devising. Yet this book is far simpler than Mists, with a smaller cast of characters and a tighter storyline. Both books rely on the mystical feminism of Avalon, following women from childhood to ancient wisdom, seeing aging priestesses supplanted by their granddaughters. The two books also show the clash of Christianity with both the Roman ways and the older Druidic powers that still lingered in Britain.

Bradley's dynamic characters transform gradually through her stories, carrying age-old wisdom that could carve a place for her works on any bookshelf. Appearances of magic are rarer than other works of fantasy, using Avalon's connection with the goddess and with fairyland to enhance her story rather than support it.

Bradley introduces a time rather less popular than the Arthurian era in her earlier trilogy. This story stands alone, taking place in the world of Avalon but employing none of her Arthurian characters. Bradley's writing mingles with that of Diana L. Paxson's as they weave the story together nearly seamlessly.

Priestess of Avalon brings Bradley's characters to life in beautiful and vivid fashion, exploring the background behind their roles in history. As Eilan grows to meet her destiny, she must choose between the public world of Rome and the sacred island hidden in the Mists.

[ by Valerie Frankel ]
Rambles: 5 October 2002

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