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The Fall of Atlantis

Marion Zimmer Bradley

Baen Books

US Hardback

ISBN: 0 7434 7157 1

Pages: 488; Price: $22.00

Date Reviewed: 7th November 2003

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2003



Fantasy, Science Fiction

I was expecting this offering from Marion Zimmer Bradley to be a reworking of the myth of Atlantis, just as she did with her reworking of the tales of Avalon, putting magic into the legends. Writing about myths and legends upon which modern civilization is at least psychologically based can be dangerous ground, but here the issue is more or less avoided. The Fall of Atlantis is in fact not about the fall of Atlantis, but about ancient civilizations, their beliefs and religions, their struggles, and particularly their sleeping habits and childbirth rituals.

The story concentrates on Domaris, a Priestess of Light, who falls in love with a doomed man from Atlantis, and bears his child, apparently to save the world. Her small sister becomes a sorceress and has an affair with her patron and teacher. She has his child, which is taken away from her. There is a lot of struggling against black magic, a lot of people not understanding each other, and a lot about temple ritual and childbirth. Apart from that, there's not much there at all. Without the rituals of the culture, it could be set in the suburbs anywhere, as a story about doomed relationships and separation.

There is a strong belief that women are essentially the same throughout history and can only be satisfied by the right man and a few kids -- and those women who don't believe it either come to a sticky end, or change their minds. There could be said to be a kind of earth-mother feminism in the book, but the women are manipulated by men and by fortune in an inappropriate and somewhat irritating manner, their strength coming only from their relationships. Many novels set in ancient civilizations use their work as a vehicle for a kind of pre-historic feminism, which can work but may be a little clichéd by now, but the reverse can be difficult to appreciate since a novel must relate to the cultural climate in which it is produced, and this is not a novel for the twenty-first century.

The language of the book is partly what makes it unbelievable -- stilted conversation and sweeping romanticism don't mix well. It's a pity, because without that it might just be possible to care about the characters. Zimmer Bradley does however convey the impulsive natures of the women compared with the noble and ascetic characters of the men through their language, which emphasizes her underlying philosophies. Unfortunately this isn't helped by the fact that words are misused and there are a few interesting typos.

The book essentially falls into two parts: the minutiae of a great civilization, which turns out to be built on rather dubious principles, and characters reminiscent of a grown-up world of Harry Potter, where magicians dabble in the Dark Arts and the world is nicely divided into the good (who wear white) the bad (who wear black) and those you're not quite sure about, who of course wear gray.

If you liked her previous books there is a chance you might enjoy this, but this is Zimmer Bradley's weakest novel. I really wanted to love this book, but was sadly disappointed. Perhaps I was looking for too much reality, in which case The Destruction of Atlantis: Compelling Evidence of the Sudden Fall of the First Great Civilization by Frank Joseph is probably more appropriate.