Saturday, January 8, 2011

Review: 'The Bones of Avalon' by Phil Rickman

Publisher: Corvus

ISBN: 978-1-84887-272-1

527 Pages

Opening Line: 'Mortlake, February, 1560: My mother's only servant disappeared on the night we needed it least.'

What the blurb says:
England, 1560: A country divided. Rivern by religious strife and dynastic ambition.
Elizabeth Tudor:
The newly crowned queen.
Twenty-six years old, superstitious and desperately vulnerable.

Dr John Dee:
The queen's astrologer.
Scholar, suspected sorcerer and now investigator, sent to Glastonbury to unearth the missing bones of King Arthur.
The Bones of Avalon
Centuries-old secrets, unexpected violence, the breathless stirring of first love...and the cold heart of a complex plot against Queen Elizabeth I.

What's right about this novel?

It's difficult for me to find many good things to say about this novel. However, one of the main things that I enjoyed, was the main character John Dee. He is a like able character and what I found particularly interesting about him, was that as a person, he lived a very dangerous life. This was because he was studying Science at a time, where anything that went against reliogion and fell into the realms of the unknown and supernatural, were instantly perceived as evil or witchcraft. This sort of behaviour, lead to risk of death. Also I could relate to him, as he is a bookworm like myself and I share his thirst for learning.

Another element I liked within this novel, was the relationship between Dee and Eleanor.

What wrong about this novel?

In my opinion, there's quite a lot wrong with this novel. It has an unnecessarily complicated plot. At one point during the novel, the story had deviated so far from the character's initial journey, that I was confused as to what was going on. I felt that the plot had an unsatisfactory ending and a lot of the strands of story within the novel, were not tied up.

The writing was sloppy; it had a half finished sentence structure and I felt that the writer could have conveyed the story, using half the words that he actually used.The vocabulary used within this novel didn't help things. The author felt that it was acceptable to used modern British English, Americanisms and, in an attempt at authenticity, to throw the odd 'betwixt' in, at inappropriate places. This last point, really annoyed me.

I usually like it when an author puts an origin spin on previously written stories or events within history and I'm a big fan of Philippa Gregory. However, I felt that by Rickman combining a crime story with historical events surrounding John Dee, I didn't feel that this added anything more to the story, than if this were a traditional fiction novel. Unlike the historical novels of Philippa Gregory, I also feel that Rickman wasn't capable of making the reader feel like they were being transported back in time. So really this novel could have been set anywhere and at any time.

Is this worth a read?

In a word, no. If anything, this novel makes me want to go out and find out more about the historical character John Dee. However, if this novel were more clearly thought out and better written, then maybe 'The Bones of Avalon' could have had the potential to be a good read. However, because of it's sloppy writing and ill conceived plot, this novel is just a laboured and at times, boring read.

Have you read this novel? Also, what do you think of the new review format?

Let me know what you think!


  1. I totally agree with you in your review, Spangle. I loved the opening line and the character of John Dee; looked forward to a good read and to delving into his time. What I deplored the most was that he had an expert in English of that time to help him, but chose to discard the advice and to throw in the odd word or phrase that was old, mixing it with the modern. This, to me, is unforgivable.

  2. Bringing in an English expert was a total waste of time in my opinion!

    With authors like Philippa Gregory for example, she is able to write in such a way as to make the language understandable to a modern audience, however she seemlessly adds old English in the dialogue so the speech and vocabulary has an authenticity to it. I think that Phil Rickman could take a leaf out of Gregory's book!

  3. What a wonderful, honest book review! Thanks for posting! x o style, she wrote