The Bones of Avalon by Phil Rickman

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The Bones of Avalon by Phil Rickman

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Elizabethan romp with superb characters and an action-packed plot.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Atlantic
ISBN: 978-1848872707

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When Elizabeth I's most trusted men fear for her safety and think there's a possibly supernatural plot against her, the obvious man to investigate it is Dr John Dee, her astrologer and consultant in the hidden arts. Aided by his former pupil – and Elizabeth's reputed lover – Robert Dudley, he travels to Glastonbury to try and find the bones of King Arthur. Glastonbury, however, has never recovered from the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the execution of its beloved Abbot Richard Whiting, and many residents view the pair with suspicion. The exception to this is Nel Borrow, who treats Dudley when he's ill and becomes the first woman Dee has ever been interested in romantically. Can the three stop the villainous plot? I'll leave you to find out…

While novels based around centuries old secrets and unexpected violence, as the back of this book proclaims, are becoming rather more common than two-a-penny, the historical twist on this one gives it a little more uniqueness than many of its type. Rickman does an excellent job of portraying Tudor England in a really realistic way – this has always been my favourite period in history, thanks partly to a superb teacher when I was studying it in school, and I definitely felt transported back 400 years or so when reading the book.

The main strength of the novel, even more than its historical accuracy, is the characterisation. Dr Dee is a brilliant hero and an especially engaging narrator. On seeing Nel's beauty for the first time he notes There was… a certain not-quite symmetry in her features which made me want to study them at length, calcule their proportions. His turns of phrase are completely believable for one of Elizabethan England's most educated men, but avoid ever getting too archaic and difficult to read.

Also, Dudley and Nel are fantastic supporting characters, and the shadow cast over Glastonbury by several others from previous years lingers long. These others include Nel's dead mother, Abbot Whiting, and John Leland. Leland visited Glastonbury prior to the Dissolution of the Monasteries to compose his Itinerary for Henry VIII, and his 'treachery' means that the new visitors to the town are looked on with suspicion. There are also several really nasty villains for Dee to rail against.

All in all this is an exciting thriller with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing right the way through, and while it's a fairly hefty book at about 440 pages I raced through it pretty quickly. I think that it's probably going to appeal mainly to those readers with at least a little knowledge of Dee and Dudley, but I'm sure that even without any idea of who the pair were, you'd be able to enjoy it for the excitement anyway.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: For those with an interest in Tudor times, the Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is a rather obvious recommendation. Just because it's obvious certainly doesn't mean it's a bad idea, so I'll go for that. However, I'd also like to mention the true crime book The Sorcerer's Tale: Faith and Fraud in Tudor England by Alec Ryrie, which I think anyone who reads this would also really enjoy.

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Buy The Bones of Avalon by Phil Rickman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Bones of Avalon by Phil Rickman at


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