Review – Retreat to Avalon
Fifteen hundred years have turned history into legend…
After three generations of struggle against ruthless invaders, Britain has finally clawed its way back within reach of peace and prosperity. Across the sea, Rome is crumbling under an onslaught of barbarian attacks, internal corruption and civil war. Desperate for allies, Rome’s last great emperor looks to Britain and the rising fame of her High King, Arthur.
Arthur believes the coming war is inevitable, but many are opposed. Dissent, intrigue and betrayal threaten to tear the fragile British alliance apart from within, while the enemies of Britain wait for the first sign of weakness.
Gawain, a young warrior craving fame, is swept up in Arthur’s wake as the king raises an army. While his wife and kin face their own struggles at home, Gawain finds himself taking on more than he bargained for and heading into the greatest battle his people have faced in generations.
Gawain is a young warrior, newly married, restless for battle and excitement beyond his settlement but also dutiful to his family and his clan. The Romans have left Britain, but their influence remains. Other forces vie for control and intrigue and alliances are ephemeral.
This is Gawain’s coming of age, in many ways, fulfilling a duty for another man’s cause and finding battle and politics are bedfellows. He’s a complex character – tender to his wife, loyal to his friends and leaders but also headstrong, creative and brave. The author does not shy away from the grimness of battle, the emotions of the men, far away from home and in dangerous territory. There is humour, there is grief. There are conflicting thoughts and needs. There is a land left in limbo, with warlords grabbing what they can.
There is Arthur.
King Arthur is a warrior – charismatic to an almost supernatural degree, yet a man, with a man’s weaknesses – rage, impatience, even hubris. He is a legend but a fragile one. He is the ultimate warrior-king. There is no magic, at least no obvious magic. Merlin appears, he is a mysterious figure with many allies and legends of his own. This is a time when Christianity was new to Britain and many of the old ways and believes lingered. Merlin knows it. Is he a wizard? Yes. Does he cast any obvious magic? No, but that makes him more intriguing and I really hope he appears in later books.
The author weaves a building tale of loyalty and what price that demands. His worldbuilding is detailed and rich, with the complexities of a society finding a new identity in an uncertain world. It’s far more historically accurate than many of the Arthurian legends and tales.
The emotive characters capture the reader and bring to life the trials of living in such a world as this, and such a time as this.
Some of the scenes are long, perhaps a little too detailed – such as the training scenes and day to day camp business, but overall a really good read.