72 of 74 people found the following review helpful
on 18 November 2011
I had never heard of Phil Rickman before I stumbled, quite accidentally, upon this book. As a writer and historian myself, I am a harsh critic and have grown weary of predictable, run of the mill historical novels. Most are unconvincing both in characterisation and plot and when I picked up The Bones of Avalon I did not expect it to be any different. But I was wrong; Phil had me at the first line.
The Bones of Avalon is set in the 1560's; a time of religious uncertainty, Popish plot and counterplot. The people walk in fear, trusting no-one in an England still reeling from the heretical burnings and hangings of Mary Tudor's Catholic reign. Now, she is dead and another Tudor takes the throne. Another queen, the bastard daughter of Anne Boleyn - Elizabeth.
Haunted by her mother's death, uncertain if she will succeed or fail, the young Elizabeth allows herself to trust few men. Two of whom are Robert Dudley - mistrusted by the council, a wild card adventurer and rumoured to be the queen's lover; and her consultant and astrologer, Dr Dee, a mild mannered scholar and dreamer.
They are sent to Glastonbury to discover the missing bones of King Arthur, lost during the dissolution in Henry VIII's reign, so that Elizabeth might fulfil a prophecy. Without its abbey Glastonbury is desolate, the town decaying and as soon as Dudley and Dr Dee set foot there, mystery and superstition unfolds.
By the time I reached the end of the first chapter I knew I was in good hands. Mr Rickman's first person narrative is authentic enough to make me forget I was actually reading. The fumbling investigative powers of Dr Dee endears him to the reader and the primitive, wary people of Glastonbury instil the plot with ambiguity. It was delightfully refreshing to find Robert Dudley illustrated, not as a broad shouldered, devil-may-care, wife killing braggart, but as an ordinary man, torn, confused, afflicted with sickness and, throughout it all, a stalwart friend to Dr Dee and loyal to his queen.
The author's knowledge of the period is indisputable, his understanding of 16th century uncertainty is flawless but, for me, the best thing about this book has to be the atmosphere.
I am not a believer in the supernatural but Mr Rickman had me doubting my own sound good sense. He gave me goose bumps such as I have not experienced since childhood. An undercurrent of human evil runs through this book, illustrating mankind's capacity to destroy that which they don't understand as an evil far stronger than the supernatural. Although the author never infers that supernatural power truly exists, The Bones of Avalon is unsettling; it has you looking over your shoulder. It is a book to read with the doors and windows locked.
Phil Rickman has written an intelligent book. Some may find the length off putting, it certainly isn't for lightweight readers but, if you have the ability to let go of disbelief and embrace the mindset of the late 16th century, then you will love it as much as I. A whopping five stars - brilliant.
105 of 111 people found the following review helpful
on 25 April 2010
It was only a matter of time before Phil Rickman got his teeth into Glastonbury. The mystical Isle of Avalon was an obvious target for Britain's master of creepy tales and he has once again written a superlative book.
This 16th century tale is very different from his `Merrily Watkin' series of great renown, though his gift of walking the tight-rope between sober fact and the supernatural is similarly employed. I know Phil had reservations about moving from contemporary fiction to the historical, but he has pulled it off in great style.
A reviewer has the constant problem of not being able to divulge too much of the plot and especially the dénouement, which inhibits a rational description of the story, but basically it is a first-person account by Dr John Dee, the mystical, scientific astronomer-astrologist of the Virgin Queen, as she was incorrectly described. Much of the story is based on fact - or at least, the factual accounts of characters, places and times are used to weave a complex story worthy of John le Carre's espionage books, with a wealth of obscure events being drawn together, when all is explained. In 1560, the young Elizabeth sends Dee to Glastonbury to seek the bones of King Arthur, which were turfed out of the marble tomb in the Abbey at the Dissolution twenty years earlier. She has been haunted by dreams of her mother Anne Boleyn, beheaded by her father and a cryptic message suggests that by kissing the bones, this malign spirit might be exorcised.
In Glastonbury, Dee falls in love with the woman doctor who treats his companion Robert Dudley, the queen's lover, but finds that the town has become a tortured place, under the thumb of a former monk from the abbey, who has turned Protestant and become a harsh Justice of the Peace. The bones become central to the plot and the finale is horrifyingly tense, in true Rickman fashion.
The book may not attract such a wide appeal as the Merrily series, as it is a one-off, so can hardly gather a similar fan-base. It is a harder read, and without wanting to sound patronising, is more academic and cerebral in content. For those with a historic bent, it is fascinating and informative about the cruel machinations that went on during and after King Henry's reign, with Popish plots and counterplots leading to innumerable hangings and burnings in the tug-of-war over religion. For Glastonbury addicts, it will consolidate their obsession with this extraordinary place. After reading this book, I will never be able to climb the Tor again without looking apprehensively over my shoulder!
Bernard Knight ex Home Office Pathologist and author of the highly acclaimed Crowner John series
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2010
Being a big fan of Phil's previous, didn't know what this foray into history would be like, as he's normally routed very much in the present.
Ignore the dialogue structure in the first few pages, as he renders it more naturalistically a chapter in. The thing with John Dee (and unsure if this is what Phil was after) but he paints him as a reluctant celeb of his day. At the whim of politics and royal moods, John becomes embroiled in a plan to find the bones of Arthur (as in Arturian legend), and place them in Elizabeth 1st care, as part of Arthur's heritage in the royal line of England (something to do with ER1's mother being a witch, and Bess being haunted by her - very Hamlet like?).
There's a grissly murder, accusations of witchcraft, some LSD-druggy sex (well it is set in Glastonbury!)and religious conspiracy. Typical Tudor shenanigans. But John Dee comes across as a victim of the restrictive beliefs of his time, and a naive young man, rather than the shady sorcerer he is painted as in history.
Enjoyed it, and would like to see how John's own history could pan out. But it's a bit like watching 'Titanic' - on the whole you know how it all ends...
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 29 June 2010
As a longtime reader of Phil Rickman who was hungry for my annual fix of Merrily Watkins, I must say I approached this offering of historical fiction with some hesitation. I've never quite acquired a taste for the genre, but I have to confess that this was one tasty read, a perfect blend of historical and crime fiction.
As other readers have commented, Rickman serves up a story carved from an wonderful slice of Elizabethan life. He certainly did his research, which must have been exhaustive. As with his other books, it's the characters who once again bring the tale to life. The perspective is a departure from his other books in that the main character, John Dee, is also the narrator, which allows a more immediate intimacy for the reader, or for this reader at least. I also enjoyed seeing the other characters -- both historical and fictional -- through Dee's eyes, my favorite being the one-eyed hag, Joan Tyrre, who often sees what others can't. There's also a surprise -- but crucial -- cameo by a famous Frenchman!
Rickman fans will not be disappointed in this book. The only disappointment as far as Rickman is concerned is that he can't magically clone himself and simultaneously turn out sequels to this latest book, the Merrily Watkins series, the Will Kingdom books and Thom Madley's Marco series.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2010
My God this book, The Bones of Avalon, took my breath away!
I seriously don't know how Mr. Rickman does it? How he creates books that drag us in and don't let go until we've been haunted, hunted, enchanted and delighted in ways unimagined? I have so say (and this may sound like sacrilege to most Merrily fans -and I am one) that ...this is my very favourite PR novel yet.
Jesu, I only hope there's a sequal!
Mark TownsendThe Path of the Blue Raven
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 2010
Really enjoyed this book.
Rickman skillfully evokes a believable Elizabethan world with dialogue that feels right without being inaccessible.
As usual with Rickman it's the characters that give the book it's main appeal for me.
As in the Merrily Watkins series and his earlier works the people come across as real. People you care about.
John Dee is now fixed in my head and when I read about him in other books I think, "John Dee's not like that!"
An intriguing mystery with unexpected twists, great characters, well paced action and good historical detail.
This book is a fascinating look at Glastonbury's secrets and it's long history as a spiritual place for Pagans and Christians.
(Readers of Rickman's earlier work on Glastonbury, "The Chalice" will find some interesting parallels and some familiar names.)
I thoroughly recommend this book.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2010
'The Bones of Avalon' is priceless, a keeper, this is why I had to buy the hardback copy; it will be read to bits over the coming years. I love historical novels when they are well written, Ellis Peters, Umberto Eco, Samson, Peter Tremayne et al. I especially love history, so after reading non-fiction books it is an absolute delight to be able to walk through the medieval streets via Phil Rickman's graphic narratives and share the adventures of his characters. Who could forget the opening scene, with its undercurrent of shock, as Dee witnesses the unfolding of the wrapped object, after its removal from the coffin on the quayside.
Rickman's Dr. Dee is a truth seeker, a keen observer and an analyst, and once he is on the trail of a mystery, he means to see it though to its conclusion, and oh my, what adventures he has along the way. The Bones of Avalon is a tremendously satisfying read on many different levels; social, political, historical, murder, intrigue, suspense, folklore and so on. Various aspects reflect everyday life - where there are many different onion-layers of complexity. The novel is a living, albeit fictional, tribute to Dee. The characters are well-rounded, they live and breathe and you want to spend time with them.
Their environment is also well described; you might find you are picking your steps through the street for a while after reading this book. Or looking at well known houses with the realisation that certain events are based on the truth, and you now feel privy to it - even if this is a pun on the preceding sentence.
Court intrigues and the threat these brought to people's lives were captured perfectly. Whispering corridors still exist today so it is fascinating to be carried back in time to find that, in some respects, some things never change. As usual, with Phil's outstanding narratives, we were right there and what a brilliant ride through Elizabethan times with the fabulously daring Dr Dee. Please, please, please Mr. Rickman, may we have a sequel - or three or four or more?
If you like The Bones of Avalon, Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins series is also well worth checking out, it is about a contemporary crime solver who is just as remarkable in her own way. I have read all this wonderfully accomplished mystery series to date, and they gave me another great reason to read The Bones of Avalon.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 14 July 2011
I was very much looking forward to this book yet found that I had the opposite problem to usual, i.e. this time I couldn't pick it up. I have been an avid fan of Mr Rickman's works since the beginning and have to admit that I was not enthalled. The story was slow, a tad predictable and revealed no revelations.Dee is often misconstrued as this mystical magician with powers, yet the truth from evidence suggests a friend, advisor and astrologer to the Queen. It was brave to write this and I am sure that he needed to, but I felt that the Glastonbury angle had been dealt with in books such as 'The Chalice'- it added nothing. Perhaps if you am not familar with his other works(including those under under Pseudomyn's), you may find this great, but I thought that it was his weakest offering yet. His new Merrily Watkin's book is out in the Autumn and so I wait with baited breath.I am sorry to have to write this but honesty is the best policy - just because it's Phil, dosdn't mean that I will gush over everything he does. He can't please everyone all the time. An average read unless you know nothing re: Phil, Glastonbury,magic etc.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 23 March 2010
Phil Rickman finally gets around to writing what could loosely be described as the prequel to his earlier works `The Chalice' and `Crybbe'. And a pretty excellent story this is too. Set in Glastonbury in 1560 - this is a book you can flourish in the faces of those who constantly hark back to what they call `The Good Old Days'. Poverty, religious persecution, Sheep Handlers disease, imminent violent death, home made haggis condoms and the small fact that if you travelled all the way to Glastonbury on your horse you'd find yourself at least 450 years too early for the music festival.
The story itself centers around Queen Elizabeth's favourite man of science, the astrologer and forerunner of alphabetically obsessed rap stars - Dr John Dee. Sent on a secret mission to Glastonbury by the Queen he soon finds himself up to his armpits in scoundrels, scullions, scapegraces, wretches, varlets and scallywags - which shows that nothing much changes in Glastonbury especially while the Music festival is on. Murder, mystery and intrigue always go hand in hand with Phil Rickman's work and this book is the perfect way to spend your Easter weekend......... or any other weekend for that matter.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 20 March 2014
Intrigue and skulduggery in the fertile cloak and dagger world of Elizabethan England, vividly brought to life in Rickman's gripping tale featuring Robert Dudley, lover and confidant of her majesty, and the mysterious Dr John Dee, occultist and astrologer. Tasked with locating the bones of King Arthur, the two men find that the sleepy, run-down town of Glastonbury is full of secrets and sinister goings-on, and the story combines a little adventure and a lot of whodunit, or rather, whosgunnadoit. The book is pacey and exciting while looking through the eyes of the bookish Dee rather than his swashbuckling travelling companion, which makes a refreshing departure from the usual fare of this genre, and the author builds the suspense very nicely throughout the tale. The writing style helped me to get into this enjoyable story - Rickman is a very good writer, although I find that his aversion to finite verbs can be a little jarring on occasion. Small point, however. I liked this book very much, and although it was the first one by Phil Rickman which I have read, it most certainly will not be the last. More please!