Blog Tour: The Spoils of Avalon (A John Singer Sargent/Violet Paget Mystery Series Book One) by Mary F. Burns: A Book Review

02_The Spoils of Avalon
The Spoils of Avalon by Mary F. Burns
Publication Date: November 1, 2014
Sand Hill Review Press
Paperback; 300p
ISBN: 978-1937818289

Series: A John Singer Sargent/Violet Paget Mystery (Book One)
Genre: Historical Fiction/Historical Mystery
Source: This book was given to me by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

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The death of a humble clergyman in 1877 leads amateur sleuths Violet Paget and John Singer Sargent into a medieval world of saints and kings-including the legendary Arthur- as they follow a trail of relics and antiquities lost since the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey in 1539. Written in alternating chapters between the two time periods, The Spoils of Avalon creates a sparkling, magical mystery that bridges the gap between two worlds that could hardly be more different-the industrialized, Darwinian, materialistic Victorian Age and the agricultural, faith-infused life of a medieval abbey on the brink of violent change at the hands of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.

First in a new series of historical mysteries, The Spoils of Avalon introduces two unlikely detectives and life-long friends-beginning as young people on the verge of making their names famous for the next several decades throughout Europe and America: the brilliant and brittle Violet Paget, known as the writer Vernon Lee, and the talented, genial portrait painter John Singer Sargent.

Friends from the age of ten, Paget and Sargent frequently met in the popular European watering places and capitals, frequenting the same salons and drawing rooms in London, Rome, Paris, Florence, Venice, Vienna and Madrid. Both were possessed of keen minds and bohemian tendencies, unorthodox educations and outsized egos (especially Paget). Their instant, natural bonding led them to address each other as "Twin", and they corresponded frequently when they were apart.

Henry James once described Violet Paget as having "the most formidable mind"of their times, and he was an active fan and patron of John Sargent, introducing him to London society and his own inner circles of literary and artistic genius.

     My Review:  The Spoils of Avalon is a mystery novel that stars real historical figures, the artists Violet Paget and John Sargent. When Violet gets a letter from her relative Mr. Crickley, a clergyman, telling her that he found something interesting the two lifelong friends decide to visit him, only to discover that he is dead. His mysterious death leads them to a trail of holy relics that links them to the legendary King Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea, who as legend says traveled to England after the death of Jesus Christ. Together they discover the past of the Glastonbury abbey that Henry VIII destroyed.

     To be honest, I had never heard of Violet Paget or John Sargent until I read this book so them starring in the novel really didn’t excite me much. What really made me enthusiastic was that it involved King Arthur, and I am a major Arthurian buff. One interesting thing that I liked about the book was that they linked King Arthur and Glastonbury Abbey, where he and Guinevere are said to have been buried. 

     I really liked the narrator Violet Paget. She was very interesting along with her companion John Sargent. Violet has a sharp wit, and most of the times I found her funny. Both she and John have an eye for detail. She also loves to read the legends of King Arthur.

     The story involves two storylines set in different time periods. The first is set in the Victorian period that involves the murder mystery with Violet Paget and John Sargent. The second is set in Glastonbury in the Tudor era during the reign of Henry VIII, and the main character Arthur, a novice, who watches his convent and his friend, the abbot being under threat by both the king and Thomas Cromwell. He also watches a great divide and inner conflict in the convent as most are for the Protestant Reformation. Arthur strives to protect his abbey and the relics in it.

     Overall, this was a fun mystery to read. The book is fast-paced and easy to read. It is full of suspense, intrigue, and drama that keeps you invested in the story. The characters are likable, and I found myself interested in the real life of Violet Paget and John Sargent. I recommend this story to anyone interested in historical fiction, mystery, The Victorian Era, The Tudors, and King Arthur.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Praise for The Spoils of Avalon

"An artist, a writer, a murder, a mysterious tome, a dissolving time, a crime, Arthurian legends, ancient saints books and bones. Burns' prose drives and is sublime, with characters and settings that live on in your mind. This is an original historical mystery connecting the Age of Industry with the Age of Miracles." - Stephanie Renee dos Santos, forthcoming novel: Cut From The Earth

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About the Author

03_Mary Burns

Mary F. Burns is the author of PORTRAITS OF AN ARTIST (Sand Hill Review Press, February 2013), a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and a former member of the HNS Conference board of directors. A novella-length book, ISAAC AND ISHMAEL, is also being published by Sand Hill Review Press in 2014. Ms. Burns's debut historical novel J-THE WOMAN WHO WROTE THE BIBLE was published in July 2010 by O-Books (John Hunt Publishers, UK). She has also written two cozy-village mysteries in a series titled The West Portal Mysteries (The Lucky Dog Lottery and The Tarot Card Murders).

Ms. Burns was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where she earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in English, along with a high school teaching certificate. She relocated to San Francisco in 1976 where she now lives with her husband Stuart in the West Portal neighborhood. Ms. Burns has a law degree from Golden Gate University, has been president of her neighborhood association and is active in citywide issues. During most of her working career she was employed as a director of employee communications, public relations and issues management at various San Francisco Bay Area corporations, was an editor and manager of the Books on Tape department for Ignatius Press, and has managed her own communications/PR consulting business, producing written communications, websites and video productions for numerous corporate and non-profit clients.

Ms. Burns may be contacted by email at For more information please visit Mary Burns's website. You can also connect with Mary on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, or read her blog posts at:

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  1. Great review, and the book itself sounds interesting. I am fascinated, Lauralee, by the number of novels set in historical England but which are actually written by Americans. I wonder why?

  2. Thanks. I don't know. I think it's because England has a longer documented history than America.

  3. The presented events had a significant influence on the further course of the history. This turn was clearly reflected in this book. The author managed to convey the main idea.


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