I adored Simone’s New Camelot trilogy, which was a fascinating take on Arthurian legend set in contemporary American politics. References are made to the full cast in this modern setting, and I was instantly intrigued by what this author would do when bringing the Mark/Isolde/Tristan saga to the foreground. Of course, Tristan doesn’t appear until much later, so Simone does a lot of the Mark/Isolde background work in this extended prequel to her upcoming trilogy.
However, it’s important to note that this prequel won’t be for all readers, even those who will enjoy the main trilogy. The significant age gap between Mark and Isolde is kind of gross in a contemporary setting, though I also understand how narrowing that gap would have affected the thematic needs of Mark’s character and history. Also inescapable is how the premise of Isolde and Mark’s future arrangement is the result of old-school men in power controlling and manipulating the future of the women in their family as a means to grasp more power.
So, those are things I didn’t necessarily like but that I understand are important for the purposes of the story. There was also plenty I did like! Isolde is kind of a weird kid (and at 18, she’s definitely still a kid), but I was hooked on her from day one because it’s clear that she’ll be more than a match for Mark even within the external power imbalances of their dynamic. Though Mark is an older and blatantly morally gray character, he tries to do his best by Isolde without sacrificing any of his own agenda, which results in a fascinating take on “kink training.” I warmed up to him by the end of this story, and I look forward to seeing him meet his match in an older Isolde. I have the feeling that he’s not as prepared as he thinks he is. And though Isolde might look to her uncle for assistance now (and likely in the future), Simone does an excellent job of portraying how religion can be equally manipulative as family ties without negating Isolde’s narrative point of view. Like many of the author’s other stories, this one is chock full of themes of sensuality at war with religious impulse.
Simone does hint that we’re missing some bits of this tale that will likely be integral to the full story later. Overall, this prequel is not a romance arc between Isolde and Mark in any traditional sense, though it is still a full narrative with a complete conflict. It was also a fantastic and unexpected treat while I anxiously await the first installment of the main trilogy.
Disclaimer: I received a digital version of this book via the author’s newsletter.