Synopses & Reviews
In the golden time of Arthur and Guenevere, the Island of the West shines like an emerald in the sea—one of the last strongholds of Goddess-worship and Mother-right. Isolde is the only daughter and heiress of Irelands great ruling queen, a lady as passionate in battle as she is in love. La Belle Isolde, like her mother, is famed for her beauty, but she is a healer instead of a warrior, “of all surgeons, the best among the isles.” A natural peacemaker, Isolde is struggling to save Ireland from a war waged by her dangerously reckless mother. The Queen is influenced by her lover, Sir Marhaus, who urges her to invade neighboring Cornwall and claim it for her own, a foolhardy move Isolde is determined to prevent. But she is unable to stop them. King Mark of Cornwall sends forth his own champion to do battle with the Irish—Sir Tristan of Lyonesse—a young, untested knight with a mysterious past. A member of the Round Table, Tristan has returned to the land of his birth after many years in exile, only to face Irelands fiercest champion in combat. When he lies victorious but near death on the field of battle, Tristan knows that his only hope of survival lies to the West. He must be taken to Ireland to be healed, but he must go in disguise—for if the Queen finds out who killed her beloved, he will follow Marhaus into the spirit world. His men smuggle him into the Queens fort at Dubh Lein, and beg the princess to save him.
From this first meeting of star-crossed lovers, an epic story unfolds. Isoldes skill and beauty impress Tristans uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, and—knowing nothing of her love for Tristan—he decides to make her his queen, a match her mother encourages as a way to bind their lands under one rule. Tristan and Isolde find themselves caught in the crosscurrents of fate, as Isolde is forced to marry a man she does not love. Taking pity on her daughter, the Queen gives her an elixir that will create in her a passion for King Mark and ensure that their love will last until death. But on the voyage to Ireland, Tristan and Isolde drink the love potion by accident, sealing their already perilous love forever.
So begins the first book of the Tristan and Isolde trilogy, another stunning example of the storytellers craft from Rosalind Miles, author of the beloved and bestselling Guenevere trilogy.
From the Hardcover edition.
I solde is a gifted healer and a princess destined to inherit the throne of Ireland from her tempestuous mother. Tristan is an intrepid knight, beholden to the King of Cornwall, his uncle, who is locked in a war of conquest with the Irish queen. When Isolde and Tristan fall in love, what unfurls is an epic of politics, faith, betrayal, and fate that will leave them both prey to evil but united by their perilous, abiding devotion. Rosalind Miles weaves a rich background of ancient Cornish, Irish, and Welsh history into this lavish retelling, infusing a well-loved legend with a fresh, imaginative twist. Fans of Marion Zimmer Bradley, Sharon Kay Penman, and Miles's own Guenevere trilogy will be captivated by this thrilling new chapter in the Arthurian saga.
About the Author
ROSALIND MILES is a well-known and critically acclaimed English novelist, essayist, and broadcaster. Her novels, including the Guenevere
trilogy, have been international bestsellers. Rosalind divides her time between homes in California and England.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
Tristan and Isolde, star-crossed lovers in the time of King Arthur, have been celebrated in poems and legends throughout the ages. Now, gifted storyteller Rosalind Miles—bestselling author of the stunning Guenevere trilogy—sets the fated duo in a dynamic, freshly imagined epic of conquest, betrayal, and desire. The first volume of a new trilogy, this lavish retelling infuses the well-loved Tristan and Isolde story with intimate details and heartstopping political intrigue—and introduces us to the intoxicating Isolde, as we've never seen her before, healer and princess, torn between an earth-shattering love and her obligation to a queenly lineage. This guide is designed to help direct your reading group's discussion of Rosalind Miles's breathtaking Isolde, Queen of the Western Isle.
1. Merlin is a mysterious character throughout the novel, orchestrating key events in everyone's lives and often saving the day with his otherworldly powers—yet he's sometimes hampered by the limitations of his magic. When do you see his powers failing him? In what ways does he directly or indirectly affect Isolde and Tristan? Who is the "broken bird" in his vision at the end of chapter one? Why do you think Merlin is cruel to Guenevere and unwilling to help in the issue of Arthur's paternity?
2. We first encounter Isolde as she seeks Sir Gilhan's counsel about the state of international affairs. She struggles to comprehend that her beloved Ireland has enemies, and that leading a war may be among her future responsibilities. How has Isolde's understanding of statecraft evolved by the end of the novel? Do you think it's significant that Miles reveals Isolde as a political character first, and a romantic one later? Does this order change by the end?
3. At the root of the rocky political situation between Ireland and Cornwall lies the reckless, fickle Irish Queen. Is she truly power-hungry, or is she just wildly impressionable? When do we see her invoking the Old Ways to justify her behavior, and when do we see her betraying those same Old Ways? What do you think she really wants from Isolde?
4. When do we see Isolde experiencing the Sight? Which other characters have it? What kind of information does Miles convey with these visions?
5. When the Queen secures the love potion intended to bind Isolde to Mark, we read, "And overhead all the demons of death and destruction came to life and danced with delight at the feast of evil ahead." Then as Andred plots to expose Tristan and Isolde, we read, "All the spirits of evil awoke in their slimy lairs, yawned, stretched, laughed, and prepared to act." How do these reminders of unseen, dark forces at work affect your reading of Isolde and Tristan's affair? Is their love powerful enough to withstand such deadly forces, or is the couple destined to be ruined by them in the end?
6. What does the Lady of the Sea mean when she tells Isolde that the Hallows of the Sea are her "fate" and her "task"? How do you interpret her command to Isolde: "Watch the bubble rising in the foam. When it breaks, follow its path to the sea"?
7. How does Isolde manage to remain perfectly honest with Mark, even when Andred publicly accuses her of improper conduct with Tristan? Does Tristan manage the same degree of honesty with Isolde when he's recuperating in Ireland and attempting to explain who he is?
8. Throughout the novel, we see Isolde being incredibly gracious in trying situations—whispering encouragement and forgiveness to the guard who binds her hands for the ordeal by water; sending Palomides off with blessings and kindness despite his attempts to manipulate her; maintaining a loving devotion to her outrageous mother; etc. Does Isolde have any shortcomings? Is there anyone she cannot forgive?
9. Jerome's take on Christianity offers a stark counterpoint to Dominian's crush-and-conquer approach. What is the function of their brief conversation in relation to the rest of the novel? Is Isolde fully aware that Dominian's agenda involves full-scale destruction of the Mother-right?
10. When Tristan first presents himself at Mark's court, he enters a chamber that the narrator describes as "dank with fear," its occupants too desperate, resentful, nervous, and ashamed to even touch the food. Yet Tristan walks in and sees sunlight "pouring through the windows," a "rosy fire on the hearth," "rich furnishings," and "tables laden with welcoming food and wine." How does this glimpse into Tristan's mind color your reading of his character? Is he utterly naive, or just a cockeyed optimist? In either case, does this trait damage him at any point in the story? What is his first hint that Mark may not be all he had hoped for in a kinsman?
11. Does the Lienore episode serve as mere comic relief in the novel, or do we learn something vital about Tristan, Arthur, and/or the rules of chivalry through it?
12. The love cordial that the Queen obtains for Isolde is presented as a perversion: "When the power of nature was harnessed to pervert true love, the very voice of nature would protest. The Nain had indeed torn the elements apart as she made them release their secrets in her quest to counterfeit true desire." But since Isolde and Tristan share a real love and desire already, what affect does the potion have on them? Does their love transform the unnatural intent of the elixirs? Do you think their love would survive without the supernatural boost of the potion?
13. After the ordeal by water, Mark makes a show of recognizing his own weakness, admitting his wrongs, and repairing his relationships with both Isolde and Tristan. Do you believe him? Does the episode herald any change for Andred? For Dominian?
14. Do you think Brangwain purposely leaves the potion lying around for Tristan and Isolde to find?