Title: The Kingmaking: Book One of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy
Author: Helen Hollick
Release Date: March 1, 2009
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
From the publisher’s website:
A novel of Arthur as he really was.
In the first book of this exciting trilogy, author Helen Hollick brings to life Arthur Pendragon as he really might have been. Leaving behind the fairy-tale element of Merlin’s magic and the improbable existence of Lancelot, Hollick instead transports the reader to the early years of Britain circa 455 AD and tells the Arthurian legend in a solid and believable way.
For one, Arthur does not pull a sword from a stone using superhuman strength; rather, he is named heir to Britain (if he can win it from the tyrant Vortigern) while standing near a “hallowed stone, the symbol of a warrior’s strength and the chieftain’s right of leadership.” Later, a sword won in battle signals his place as Britain’s King.
This is a story of harsh battles, secret treasonous plots, and the life-threatening politics of the dark ages of early Britain. Intertwined through it all is the often-tested love of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere in Welsh – her name as it really would have been) as they struggle to survive and conquer to see Pendragon become King.
I have always been a big fan of the Arthur legend. It started when I was very young, but my reading has tapered off in recent years because I haven’t been able to find any King Arthur novels that really speak to me. All that changed when I picked up Helen Hollick’s The Kingmaking.
The first in a planned trilogy, The Kingmaking is about Arthur’s rise to power. Hollick incorporates some of the Arthurian myths and legends but treats Arthur as a historical figure rather than a pure and mystical king shrouded in Merlin’s magic. In fact, there is no character of Merlin in this novel – the book is entirely historical fiction, rather than the usual added fantasy elements. This gives Hollick a unique viewpoint from which to write; it also gives her more leeway to stray from the Arthur legend in order to make him a real man.
And make him a man she does – some Arthurian enthusiasts may actually be uncomfortable with how real Hollick makes Arthur. Gone is the perfect and pure ideal of a king that Tennyson idolized in his poem Idylls of the King. Instead, Arthur is rough around the edges and somewhat brutal. He has his own weaknesses, one of which is women; in the book, he whores around enough for ten men. But that is one of the best parts of The Kingmaking; for one of the first times, he seems like a real, flesh and blood man who makes mistakes and doesn’t automatically become a wise ruler. He is quite young in the novel; he makes the errors of a youth and he learns from them. It’s very appealing; too often Arthur is portrated as a perfect king that made one tragic mistake that was his downfall.
I also enjoyed reading about Gwenhwyfar; she was a strong woman who deserved to rule in her own right. Hollick makes her a believable flesh and blood character as well. The other major Arthurian novel that presented strong women was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon; however, in that novel, Arthur was portrayed as a tool of the women around him. That is most definitely not the case in The Kingmaking; Hollick proves that both a king and a queen can be well-defined, strong characters that are appealing even when they have their own faults and weaknesses.
I really appreciated Hollick’s discussion of the Arthur legend in the conclusion of the novel. It’s always nice to know what history supports and what it doesn’t – it’s clear that Hollick put time and energy into informing her readers of this divide.
The Kingmaking was an amazing read that any fan of historical fiction will enjoy, even those unfamiliar with Arthurian lore. Despite its size, readers will race through the novel, eager to discover what happens to Arthur and Gwenhwyfar. The only disappointment comes in the fact that it ends – I can’t wait until the sequel is released!
A huge thank you to Paul at Sourcebooks for sending me this book to review!
Want to read more reviews of this book? Here’s the full blog tour: