Week 18–Isolde:Queen of the Western Isle

This novel by Rosalind Miles was exceptionally good. The subject matter was similar to that of Marion Zimmer Bradley (though nowhere near Bradley’s skill level–she is an unsurpassed master).  It is the first in a trilogy about the tragic and misguided romance of Tristan and Isolde, and is greatly tied to the story of King Arthur as well.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1400047862&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrIt begins with four separate tales which slowly come together as the novel progresses. It opens before Tristan and Isolde meet each other, and there is a lot of set-up of their future tragedy–things that the reader sees happening, knowing that it is going to cause them trouble down the line, but of course are powerless to stop.  Tristan, being a knight of great prowess, defeats the Queen of Ireland’s champion (also her lover) when he comes to make war on Cornwall.  The Queen curses the woman beloved by Tristan, that she never know true happiness or ease with him, and that circumstance keep them apart.  At this point, neither she nor Isolde know that it will be Isolde who falls hopelessly in love with Tristan, and so their doom is set by her mother’s malice.

It’s a really well-done recreation of an classic tragedy.  Of course, I won’t know how Miles chooses to end it until I read the final two books. I’ve seen the ending of Tristan and Isolde go both ways, and I tend to root for the pair, so I hope Miles wraps it up in a cheerful way.  The tone of the novel is one of a detached story-teller.  The narrator uses extreme exaggerations and embellishments, so it resembles a story that may have been told beside a fire in the time when the novel is set.  Designed for entertainment’s sake and not for believability or for historical education, it is full of mythology and fantasy, and the mythical island of Avalon plays a small role in the novel as well.  It is heavy with tragedy and impending doom, and yet light in those wispy, semi-incomprehensible elements of faery which interject to change the course of human lives.

I would have enjoyed more action in the novel, though there are some exciting points. I feel that Miles spent too much time portraying the depth of sorrow that both Tristan and Isolde feel upon their separation and her marriage to King Mark.  Less talking, more doing, Rosalind!  Other than that, it’s great, and I think fans of the King Arthur legend will enjoy this tale of one of Arthur’s knights.

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One thought on “Week 18–Isolde:Queen of the Western Isle

  1. Imperious says:

    I'll consider it 🙂 I fondly remember days with the Gottfried von Straßburg epic. And Wagner's opera is worth the time as well.

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