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Book review: Phil Rickman's “The Bones of Avalon”

Book review: “The Bones of Avalon” is a historical mystery, about Dr. John Dee, astrologer and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I, and his search for King Arthur's bones and the secrets of Avalon.
Published: July 24, 2011

“The Bones of Avalon” (Minotaur Books, $25.99) by Phil Rickman is a novel about John Dee, adviser to Queen Elizabeth I and a historical figure long rumored to have dabbled in sorcery. The date for Elizabeth's coronation was chosen based on horoscopes cast by Dee.

Elizabeth I has been on the throne just more than a year when Dee receives a summons from Sir William Cecil. The queen's religious reforms are unpopular, with many supporters of her sister Mary still at court who wish for Catholic rule of England. Dee is viewed with suspicion because many view his scientific studies as sorcery.

Questions of Elizabeth's legitimacy have arisen. Dee must go to the mystical town of Glastonbury, where Avalon was, to find the bones of King Arthur, whose legacy was so important to the Tudors, and bring them to the queen.

Accompanied by friend and former student Robert Dudley, Dee finds Glastonbury in turmoil from the dissolution of the monasteries and the execution of its abbott. Trying to solve the mystery of the execution and the secret passed on by Merlin that monks have guarded since the abbey was founded by Joseph of Arimathea, Dee discovers a plot to kill the queen.

This is a good mystery that portrays Dee as an intelligent man of his time and not an evil practitioner of the black arts. Religious strife, Glastonbury legends, the bones of King Arthur and the curse of the Tudors make for a hard-to-resist combination.

— Betty Lytle