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The Bones of Avalon by Phil Rickman

The Bones of Avalon by Phil RickmanI recently received a copy of Phil Rickman’s The Heresy of Dr Dee for review, which came as a timely reminder to me that I’d not managed to get around to reading the first novel in this series — The Bones of Avalon. Having now put that right, I am happy to present a review for you here and will hopefully soon be able to provide a review of the aforementioned follow up. If this new novel is anything like as good as the first one, then I know I have a treat in store in my TBR pile.

Read on for a full review…

-- The Bones of Avalon by Phil Rickman a Review by Des Greene --

I’m only half joking here, but if it weren’t for the brilliant successes of writers such as Hilary Mantel, for those of us who have the habit, the reading of historical fiction titles might have had to remain our dirty little secret – read in a corner under subdued lighting, or hidden from prying eyes on your Kindle whilst commuting on public transport. But even though it has most certainly become a lot more fashionable recently, I do find myself increasingly thinking that a little of this stuff goes a long way. Even some of my favourite series seem to have dragged on for rather too long; their main characters wilting and growing ever longer in the tooth. I was therefore rather pleasantly surprised at The Bones of Avalon. It has a very fresh and believable historical voice, and the lead character is well defined and engaging. I might get a few more miles out of this genre yet!

Set in the early years of Elizabeth 1st’s reign, the country is divided and filled with political and religious mistrust. Two of the queen’s closest advisers and confidantes are Dr John Dee and Robert Dudley. Dee is an astronomer, which in that era, placed him close to the devil in many eyes. Although deeply devoted to Elizabeth, he would much rather maintain a low profile. However, the queen has lately found herself plagued by dreams and visions of her mother, Anne Boleyn. She believes that only by kissing the bones of the legendary King Arthur can she fulfil a prophecy and be freed from these visitations.

Although the evidence is shadowed in vagueness and rumour, Arthur’s remains are believed to lie in the cathedral city of Glastonbury — laid low in the Dissolution of Henry 8th’s reign. Dee, and his more flamboyant friend Dudley, are dispatched by the queen to find and recover these lost relics of Arthur. The town turns out to be less than welcoming to the royal envoys, and their task in hand is very far from straightforward to achieve.

So what is it that sets this book apart and stops it from being just one more hist-fic novel on the bookshelves? Well it certainly isn’t the speed which which the plot unfolds. This is a slowly developing and fairly complex storyline, which spends sufficient time in defining the historical and political background. So rather than the plot, I found that it was it’s voice and feel which immediately drew me in and snared me as a reader. It is fair to say that it does also have a small dose of the supernatural, but this is also done in a super-convincing and truly gripping manner. Additionally, it gives a really good account of how things that we would now consider commonplace and easily explained — herbal and medical practices, for example — in those times were considered magical or witchcraft. In conjunction with the plot, these additional elements of atmosphere and background all come together into a satisfying and thoroughly absorbing whole.

I often conclude these reviews with a quick paragraph on the type of reader who may enjoy the novel. In addition to seasoned devotees of historical fiction, I also think The Bones of Avalon will appeal to readers of mystery and perhaps even those with a leaning towards the supernatural. On the other hand, however subtle and well executed it is, that same supernatural element may not sit well with certain types of reader. I would certainly recommend you getting hold of a copy, and would love to hear your own thoughts on it.

Already read The Bones of Avalon? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.

Novel Suggestions only provides fiction book reviews of books that we personally recommend. We don’t spend our valuable time writing reviews of books which we feel would be a waste of your valuable time!

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