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Priestess of Avalon
Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana L. Paxson
Roc Books, 394 pages

Art: Kinuko Y. Craft
Priestess of Avalon
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Marion Zimmer Bradley was born in Albany, NY, on June 3, 1930, and married Robert Alden Bradley in 1949. Mrs Bradley received her B.A. in 1964 from Hardin Simmons University in Texas, then did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1965-67. She sold her first professional story to Vortex Science Fiction in 1952, and has since written numerous novels, among them: Mists of Avalon, The Firebrand, and the Darkover series. She editing installments of Sword and Sorceress since 1984. Marion Zimmer Bradley died in 1999.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Sword and Sorceress XIX
SF Site Review: Sword and Sorceress XVI
SF Site Review: The Gratitude of Kings
SF Site Review: The Shadow Matrix
SF Site Review: Gravelight

Diana L. Paxson
Diana L. Paxson lives in Berkeley, California. She has sold over 70 short stories, many of them to anthologies such as the Sword & Sorceress series, Elf Fantastic and Wizard Fantastic. She is the author of the Chronicles of Westria, and many historical fantasies including The White Raven, the Wodan's Children trilogy (The Wolf and the Raven, Dragons of the Rhine, and The Lord of Horses), The Hallowed Isle (published as The Book of the Sword, The Book of the Spear, The Book of the Cauldron, and The Book of the Stone).

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

Helena is an inititate of Avalon. During her becoming of age rite, she is gifted with a three-fold vision from the goddess she serves, a vision that shows her life as maiden, mother and crone. The man she sees in this vision is a Roman officer, one, she discovers later, is to lay with her best friend in a ritual. When she takes her best friend's place in the ceremony, she is banished from Avalon. Fortunately the Roman, Constantius, returns her love, and is happy to take her with him. Whether their love can survive the many heart breaks fate has for them and the constant manipulations of politics remains to be seen.

Helena -- the real Helena -- is a woman of mystery. Historians call her the mother of Constantine the Great, who was the first Christian emperor. She is credited with finding several of the places holy to the Christians, such as Jesus' tomb and the manger where He was born. Folklore credits her with even greater feats. It is obvious that Diana L. Paxson did a lot of research, finding clever ways to meld fantasy to reality, making the portrait of this famous woman both vivid and believable.

Not only is Priestess of Avalon the story of a great woman, it is the story of two different religions. We get a complete picture of the priestesses way of life. The scenes where we get a glimpse at their rites are rather enlightening. In some ways Helena, is both Priestess of Avalon and a woman who, if not really a Christian, is someone who feels the power inherent in the deity. I felt that with Paxson trying to bridge the Pagan and the Christian with a behind the scenes, ultimate God called the Initiator, that she was trying to reconcile the two religions as they exists today. As a Christian who understands Pagan belief, I found some interesting thoughts... thoughts that were not always comfortable, but still worthy of contemplation. In a book such as this, where you mingle two very different religions, it is easy to insult one religion in favor of another. Paxson does a very good job of representing both religions in such a way that no one feels slighted. I will admit that I wasn't perfectly happy with all of her theories, but they worked for the story. It is also comforting to think that God reaches everyone through different ways.

This is also very much a family drama. We see, in Paxson's intricately researched setting, the trails, as well as the joys, of Helena's family. The fact that it might just all be true gives it strength and color. I enjoyed watching Helena's journeys through Europe, and thought that the bridging between what is, for all intents and purposes, the mythical world of Avalon and giving it a place in accepted history was very well done. The politics of religion and of running an empire make for some good reading.

Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana L. Paxson began this journey of discovering Helena together, and although fate made it that Paxson finished it alone, it is a strange and wondrous story that no fan of the previous Avalon books should be without.

Copyright © 2002 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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