Saturday, April 02, 2011

Book Review: _The Hallowed Isle_ by Diana L. Paxson

The King Arthur legend is ingrained in our imagination. In every generation some author writes an Arthurian novel, adding new perspectives to the story. Fantasy author Diana L. Paxson recently added her contribution with The Hallowed Isle. Consisting of four books, Paxson wrote a Historical Fantasy about King Arthur. She blended historical material with the legend to creat a story filled with realistic characters, a vivid setting and strong themes.

The first book, The Book of the Sword, starts the story before King Arthur's birth. It sets the stage for the birth of Arthur by telling the story of Merlin. The priestesses of the goddess guard an ancient sword of power. Artoria Argantel, the high priestess, leaves to marry Amlodius to fulfill a prophecy. Her sister is kidnapped by a wild man and after being rescued bears Merlin. He grows up, learns magic and later helps Uthir conceive Arthur. Paxson incorporates the historical details of a Britain after the Roman Empire abandoned it, giving the book a grim reality.

The Book of the Spear revolves around Artor's early years of reign and dealing with the Saxons. Oesc is the grandson of Hengest. He joins his father in Britain. Years after his father's death he becomes a prisoner of Artor. During those years, Oesc's enmity turns to friendship. Eventually he returns to his people and finds his destiny. Throughout this book the reader sees the growth of Artor into kingship. The second book adds new aspects of historical Britain and a growth in the characters. This sets up the third book.

Artor's life and his marriage to Guendivar is the focus of The Book of the Cauldron. Told from the point of view of Guendivar and other women, this book tells the story going on among the women in Artor's life. They strive to protect or possess the mystic cauldron of the pagan goddess, a powerful artefact of healing and magic. Guendivar is a woman gifted with power, but untrained in its use. She is uncertain about being a queen. Morgause, Artor's sister, causes problems with the marriage in her ambition for power. She wants the cauldron to give her even greater power. This book adds an interesting touch to the legend of the Holy Grail and has a conclusion that neatly sets up the last book.

The Book of the Stone concludes the series with the final chapter is Artor's life. Medraut, Artor's son from Morgause, joins his father after his mother joins the priestesses on the Isle of Maidens. Artor has a dream to bring peace to Britannia, so he takes his army to help the Britons settled in Brittany. While he's gone, Medraut seizes power and Qyeen Guendivar. The book proceeds to a satisfying conclusion of this Arthurian tale.

The four books of The Hallowed Isle adds a realistic, mystical story to the Arthurian legend. Diana Paxson created a Historical Fantasy of vivid images, memorable characters and strong themes. The fantasy elements add a special touch to the historical period. One day this series might become a classic in Arthurian literature.

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