The Lovers: The Legend of Trystan and Yseult
I have to admit, before I read The Lovers: The Legend of Trystan and Yseult I knew nothing about the legend of Trystan and Yseult (perhaps better known as Tristan and Isolde). After I read the book, I still knew nothing about the legend of Trystan and Yseult, because this meandering book isn’t actually about them. Although it has some interesting moments, it is also at times choppy and difficult to get through.
The story is told from the first-person point of view of Deigh, a man who begins life as a horsemaster in Ireland, but ends life as one of King Arthur’s greatest lords. After Deigh is cursed by a faerie woman, he and his wife Ehne are banished from Ireland. They start over in Britain, taking on new names (Gareth and Rhian) so they can outwit the faerie curse. Gareth begins his long association with both Trystan and King Arthur, and through his accomplishments as a soldier, he rises to power. Meanwhile, Trystan loves his uncle’s wife (yep, her name is Yseult), which results in his banishment from Britain, so he goes to France. Gareth follows Trystan over to help him defeat Clovis and his warring party of Franks, and falls in love with Trystan’s wife, who is coincidentally named Isolt. Gareth and Trystan fight the Franks and discuss Gareth’s feeling for Isolt. Then Trystan is fatally wounded and Yseult comes to him on his deathbed and says a few words.
Does it sound like I just gave away the plot? It’s nothing you won’t learn from the back cover of the book and the first two chapters, in which everything is heavily foreshadowed. Although the book meanders all over the place, you can always tell exactly where it will go, unless you read the title and get the mistaken impression that the book is about Trystan and Yseult, or any lovers at all. What is it about, you may ask? I would say it’s about the relationship between Gareth and Trystan, and the various battles they are in – together and separately.
This book isn’t bad, but it doesn’t have any particular point either. I liked Gareth and Trystan, but none of the women are around enough to really deserve mention. The most interesting scenes take place at Trystan’s castle in France, which is called Leon, and involve the training techniques of soldiers. It should also be noted that reading the first chapter is very difficult if you don’t speak Gaelic. Fortunately, English is used or the remainder of the book.
I don’t think that every book title has to be clever or pertain directly to the plot. You can call a book something like “Wonderful” or “Forever” or even “Love’s Grand Passion,” and it would probably not evoke very specific expectations. But darn it, if you are going to call your book The Lovers: The Legend of Trystan and Yseult, then people are going to expect to be reading about a) lovers, b) Trystan, and c) Yseult. If you are interested in this book, be forewarned that a more accurate title would be “The Fighters: Trystan, Gareth, and the Minutiae of Arthurian Cavalry Techniques.”