Lauren's Reviews > The Kingmaking

The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick
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Jul 21, 2010

really liked it
Read from July 21 to August 01, 2010

This is the first installment of Helen Hollick's Pendragon's Banner Trilogy, about the legendary King Arthur. Except, this isn't the King Arthur you're familiar with from Mort D'Artur and other legends. Here, there are are no knights in shining armor, no Merlin the magician, and no chivalry. Instead, Hollick creates a window into the brutal Fifth Century, a time where Rome has left Britain and created a power vacuum where the native British and the Saxons fight for supremacy. Arthur was said to live in such a time, so Hollick creates a character with the attributes most likely to prevail in these Dark Ages. Hollick's Arthur is charming but also a brute, not afraid to go for what he wants, a Machiavellian to the core. Be prepared to admire and loathe him, for he rapes and pillages and is not afraid to raise a hand to a woman - mainly his wife Winifred. Similarly, Hollick's, Guinievere (spelled the Welsh way) is no damsel in distress. She has a dagger and knows how to use it, trained in the arts of war from a young age (unlike the more Romanized women of the period). In addition to Arthur and Guinevere, the remaining characters are marvelous, three dimensional products of the Dark Ages, from the selfish Morgause to the scheming Queen Rowena and Princess Winifred.

In addition to Hollick's recounting of the chaotic Fifth Century political arena, I greatly appreciated her recounting of religion and the spread of Christianity. She depicts Christianity as a new religion slowly replacing the pagan "old ways." While some characters were devoted Christians, many swayed with the wind, embracing some aspects of Chrstianity while adhering to the old gods. I think this adds wonderful color to the novel as a work of historical fiction.

The Kingmaking left me with my mouth open, so wonderful was the conclusion with Hollick making realistic the Excalibur - drawn from a Saxon (in her author's note, she explains that saxo is stone, but could also be Saxon with a notation over the "o.") I so greatly enjoyed Hollick's attempt to make the Arthur myth real and to place it within history. Be forewarned, though, that if you want an untarnished image of Arthur or if bloody, brutal descriptions of battle turn you off, this isn't the book for you. The Kingmaking is a gritty novel - you won't find any sugar coating or romanticization of the Dark Ages here. This novel includes stinking latrines, rape, pillaging, decapitations, wenching (often by Arthur) and other unsavory aspects of the period.

I couldn't give this novel 5 stars (for me it hovered above 4 stars, though) because I didn't really enjoy the beginning. It starts out with Uthr Pendragon, Arthur's father, joining with Guinevere's father Cunedda of Gwynedd to push Vortigern and the Saxons from Britain. Arthur and Guinevere are children and I just did not find their childish perspectives to be all that interesting. For me, the novel "clicked" and started moving quickly when Uthr died and Arthur's true parentage as Uthr's son was revealed. Before then, I just could not get into the story. Thus, the first part of the book (around 15% - I read the Kindle version) was uninspiring. The remainder of the book was phenomenal, however, and I'm very excited to read the rest of the trilogy.
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Reading Progress

07/21/2010 "Not sure of the page - reading the Kindle edition. So far, so good, but I'm reading slower than I'd like!"
07/26/2010
36.0% "The Kingmaking started off slow. However, upon Uthr's death and the revelation of Arthur's true parentage, the novel picked up. While I was lukewarm on Arthur and Gwenhwyfar as young teens, I greatly enjoy them as young adults. So far, the novel reads more like Historical Fiction than legend. I'm interested to see what Hollick does with the mythical King Arthur."

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