Something clever I'll change later

I like fantasy. The end.
The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley This review is also available on my blog, Stumptown Books.

Even though this is a veritable tome, weighing in at almost 900 pages (and my Kindle estimated 1200 for some reason...I had balls of steel the day I decided to read this), I was tired of starting fantasy series and getting so behind in my reading. I wanted something self-contained, so I settled on The Mists of Avalon. Joke's on me - this is merely the first chapter in a seven part series. D'oh! I haven't yet decided whether I'll ever look into any of the sequels.

I am completely torn on this book, and after reading about it online, it seems to be very polarizing. I fall in the middle: on the one hand, I couldn't stop talking about it with family and friends. On the other, I felt it was overly long and after a while I began to suspect that not very much had actually happened, though of course I carried on. It left me feeling rather unfulfilled.

It is impossible for me to write about Mists without some mention of religion, but nothing here is meant to be inflammatory or insensitive. So much of Arthur's story is caught up in both worlds - the Old Ways, where we get Merlin, Excalibur, and the Lady of the Lake; and Christianity, where we get the Knights and the Holy Grail. My brother is a Latin teacher and teaches a section on the Bible, so we had a number of vociferous discussions. Of course, I realize this is a fantasy book, but Bradley did an amazing job of making Arthur's court - and the Old Ways - seem just out of reach. Women were so much more appreciated before Britain became pious, and the centuries of sexism following just made me feel deflated and depressed. It's not anti-Christian by any means, as Merlin constantly points out, he feels that all gods are one god and all should be left to worship in peace. It's not the teachings of Christianity that Morgan, the main character, is opposed to, but rather the people of the church who insist on banishing all mentions of other gods.

Mists diverts wildly from normal Arthurian legend, but Morgan la Fey has always been one of my favorite characters and I've always had this niggling suspicion that she was just misunderstood. Bradley took this thought and ran with it, and now Morgan will always be my favorite character. Gwenhwyfar (side note: I totally didn't know that this is how her name is classically spelled. I associate the name "Gwenhwyfar" with Drizzt's cat in R.A. Salvatore's novels *blush* ) is a bit of a silly child, but you still can't help but feel bad that she loves someone who isn't Arthur. Nimue wasn't in it nearly enough for my tastes. I've always been partial to the vengeful priestess version of Nimue and that's just not how she is here. Igraine and Uther's love story was very well portrayed I thought, and I quite like what Bradley did with their history.

Time moves strangely. The first 3/4s of the book takes us up until Morgan is about 28 or so, then the remaining quarter goes lickety split through the rest of her life. The quest for the Grail is smushed in there somewhere and the last 100 pages felt rushed. I remember saying "There's no way I'm going to be happy with this ending, there's just not enough pages left." And there definitely wasn't. I felt rather cheated with how she did a little epilogue with Morgan at Glastonbury - I would have liked to know a lot more about how Lancelot, Gwenhwyfar, and Arthur ended up. There was simply no closure, and for how long the book was, there should have been.

Overall, I love Arthur, and I am very glad I read this. It's still a powerhouse in the fantasy genre today, but I can recommend it only if you are rounding out your fantasy knowledge. Even though I could hardly stop talking about it, the whole experience left me flat.

Currently reading

The Dog Stars
Peter Heller
Predator Cities #1: Mortal Engines
Philip Reeve