Since The Mists of Avalon holds a special place in my Top 5 Favorite Books Ever, I had little doubt but that I would enjoy the first of its prequels, and I was not disappointed. This is another feminist novel, set many years in Avalon's past--so far back, in fact, that there are yet no priestesses on Avalon, and the women instead live in a place called Vernemeton, or the Forest House, established by the Romans to isolate and protect the priestesses after their sanctuary at Mona was cruelly invaded (by the Romans themselves, of course). The main character, Eilan, dreams of being a priestess one day, then falls in love. I really admire the way MZB made the men's control of the women, especially their sexuality, not just an inconvenience or a metaphor but a central part of the plot. The priestesses of the Forest House are only permitted sexual contact with a man if that man is the chosen Year-King, symbolic sacrifice for his people. Eilan must struggle with her choices and few around her believe that she has made the right ones.
Unlike Mists, The Forest House has a male POV character. At the beginning he is rather heroic and quite likable. However, as the novel progresses, he is shown to be more and more flawed and toward the end he really becomes a big jerk. He is redeemed somewhat, and manages to remain sympathetic for a time, but it would be nice to see a more relatable male character. (I do think we get that in the next book.) Besides that and some repetitiveness, though, I have nothing to complain about in this book.
My favorite character is Caillean, the Assistant to the High Priestess who is later sent to establish a house of priestesses on Avalon. I see in her Raven, Morgaine, Niniane, and especially Viviane--it's easy to find the beginning of a long legacy of manipulative High Priestesses of Avalon. The Merlin also makes an appearance, though not in the guise you might expect, and I'm intrigued to see how the perception of that role changes.
I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who didn't like The Mists of Avalon, and probably not to anyone who hasn't read it--it's a decent stand-alone novel, I think, but gains more depth if you know its future. To anyone who loved Mists as much as I did, though, I definitely recommend The Forest House!
6 hours ago