Ancestors of Avalon
by Diana L. Paxson
Viking, 2004, ISBN 0-670-03314-6
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
This has Marion Zimmer Bradley's name splashed across the cover slightly larger than Paxson's, and in all caps. The story itself, while entirely Paxson's work, is apparently based on an idea that Bradley had been kicking around for years, and inserted bits of into Mists of Avalon and other works, of a connection between mythical Atlantis and mythical Avalon.
The Sea Kingdoms of Atlantis are about to be destroyed by earthquake and volcanic eruption, the delayed consequence of a prince and priest of the previous generation, and the priestly and royal leaders of Atlantis can only gather as many people as they can onto the available ships, and head for the possible sanctuary of the Isles of Tin, i.e., Britain. Tiriki, one of the most senior priestesses, and her husband Micail, both a priest and the prince of Ahtarrath, one of the last of the Sea Kingdoms to be destroyed, wind up on different ships in the last of the chaos. Both ships reach Britain, but at far enough separated points that they don't find each other, and must each struggle on separately, with the friends and colleagues who are with them, as well as the natives, to preserve the traditions of Atlantis.
Micail arrives in a town built by Atlantean traders earlier, with some of the comforts of civilization as well as somewhat familiar rules for ordering life and making decisions. In his growing grief, however, as Tiriki's ship doesn't arrive, he's very passive. A prince from a neighboring Sea Kingdom, Tjalan, fills the vacuum and sets out to rebuild the Atlantean empire in his own way, and despite the doubts and concerns of some of the others, with Micail passively going along, there's no one to exercise any restraint on him.
Meanwhile, Tiriki and her companions arrive near a more primitive native village and, after some tense moments, are welcomed by the natives when their priestess recognizes Tiriki as another priestess serving the same powers. There's a tor nearby which is clearly the home or focus of a Power worth being on good terms with, and which should be easily recognizable to any fan of Arthurian fiction. Tiriki's grieving for the apparently lost Micail, also, but she and her smaller group of companions, joining a relatively primitive native village, has critical problems of basic survival to struggle with. In addition, there's the political problem of melding the small group of Atlanteans, of widely different social status at home, into one coherent group. Unlike Micail's group, there simply aren't enough of them to keep old social structures in place in the new land. Apprentice priests and priestesses may thing themselves of a higher caste than servants and sailors, and sailors may think land-based hard labor, rather than shipboard hard labor, is beneath them, and they may all have their initial doubts about the villagers, but nothing they value about their civilization is going to survive into the next generation if they don't get over it.
It's a minor point, but I was pleased to notice it: whether it's Paxson's doing, or Bradley's in earlier novels, someone has noticed that several thousand years ago, when Atlantis mythically existed, not only would the constellations have had different names, but the sky itself would have looked different, because the stars wouldn't be in the same parts of the sky at the same time. This would matter for astrology and for navigation, and in this book, it does matter.
It's an interesting, enjoyable read, with Tiriki's parts significantly more fun because Tiriki actually does things, rather than sitting there like a lump, waiting for things to happen and not recognizing when someone does something that has Bad Idea spray-painted all over it. (I mean, Micail's a nice guy, but it's definitely not his brains that Tiriki's interested in.)
Anyway, it's fun, quick read.