The Kingmaking – Helen Hollick [TSS]

Title: The Kingmaking: Book One of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy
Author: Helen Hollick
ISBN: 1402218885
Pages: 592
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:

http://harrietdevine.typepad.com/harriet_devines_blog/2009/02/the-kingmaking.html 2/20
http://lazyhabits.wordpress.com/2009/02/20/the-kingmaking/ 2/21 and interview 2/27
http://carpelibrisreviews.com/the-kingmaking-by-helen-hollick-book-tour-giveaway/ 2/23
http://www.historicalnovels.info/Kingmaking.html 2/23
http://www.bibliophilemusings.com/2009/02/review-interview-kingmaking-by-helen.html 2/23
http://lilly-readingextravaganza.blogspot.com/2009/02/kingmaking-by-helen-hollick.html 2/23 and guest blog 2/25
http://chikune.com/blog/?p=488 2/24
http://booksaremyonlyfriends.blogspot.com/ 2/25
http://peekingbetweenthepages.blogspot.com/ 2/26 and guest blog 2/27
http://webereading.blogspot.com/ 2/26
http://www.caramellunacy.blogspot.com 2/26
http://bookthoughtsbylisa.blogspot.com/ 3/1
http://jennifersrandommusings.wordpress.com/ 3/1
http://rhireading.blogspot.com/ 3/1
http://passagestothepast.blogspot.com/ 3/2
http://thetometraveller.blogspot.com/ 3/2
http://steventill.com/ 3/2
http://savvyverseandwit.blogspot.com / 3/2 and interview 3/3
http://www.carlanayland.blogspot.com/
http://readersrespite.blogspot.com/ 3/3 and interview on 3/5
http://libraryqueue.blogspot.com/ 3/4
http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/ 3/4
http://www.myfriendamysblog.com/ 3/5
http://samsbookblog.blogspot.com 3/5
http://goodbooksbrightside.blogspot.com/ 3/5

Comments

  1. Sounds pretty cool… I’ve been wanting to read “Mists of Avalon” for a long time (based on numerous recommendations) and it seems like it might be interesting to read these back-to-back.

  2. Great review! I like how you brought in a couple of other Arthurian works to compare. This definitely felt more like a historical fiction novel than an Arthurian legend, but I really liked it. I had a whole class on Arthurian legend and where it all comes from, so it was really nice to read something new that was also a good read.

  3. I’ve really just started reading historical fiction. This one looks a little heavy to me, though.

  4. I saw a review of this book another a blog that intrigued my interest. After reading your review, I now know that I must put this book on my TBR list. It sounds like a great read.
    Thanks for your wonderful review.

  5. I loved this book as well! It was such a well told story and I’m looking forward to reading the next part of this series.

  6. I bought older versions of all three of the books last year. I’m looking forward to reading them.

  7. For whatever reason I did not find this story as engrossing.

  8. Great review Swapna. I really enjoyed this novel as well. I can’t wait to read the next one. I discovered that my library has a copy of when it was first released but it’ll have to wait a bit as they are sure big books.

  9. I liked how real Arthur seemed as well. I may not have always liked his actions, but he seemed so much like a flesh and blood person. I came away feeling like I really knew the people in the story.

  10. I’ve already fallen in lvoe with this book, now I just have to get my hands on a copy.

  11. Nice review…I just couldn’t get into this one. I am hosting a giveaway for 3 copies though

  12. thank you for the lovely review – and thank you for inviting me onto your blog
    Helen

  13. I liked Hollick’s depiction of Arthur: much more real-to-life than the traditional legend. I felt the author did a good job of blending history with myth, and creating an accurate picture of post-Roman Britain.

    Arthur definitely had moments where you disliked him, among his other good qualities. Gwenhwyfar was the same way. There were times where I questioned her, but overall, she was more like-able than Arthur.

    What did you think of the antagonist characters? Did you think they were well-rounded and complex? What did you think of Winifred? Did she have any redeeming qualities in your mind?

    Also, now that I think about it, I would have liked to see Morgause as a more regularly character throughout the novel. What do you think? I thought she was an interesting, conflicting character.

  14. I liked Hollick’s depiction of Arthur: much more real-to-life than the traditional legend. I felt the author did a good job of blending history with myth, and creating an accurate picture of post-Roman Britain.

    Arthur definitely had moments where you disliked him, among his other good qualities. Gwenhwyfar was the same way. There were times where I questioned her, but overall, she was more like-able than Arthur.

    What did you think of the antagonist characters? Did you think they were well-rounded and complex? What did you think of Winifred? Did she have any redeeming qualities in your mind?

    Also, now that I think about it, I would have liked to see Morgause as a more regularly character throughout the novel. What do you think? I thought she was an interesting, conflicting character.

  15. @Stephen – Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

    I actually felt sorry for Winifred. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like her, but I felt like she was more a product of her circumstances than an actual bad person. She was used by Arthur and his allies, as well as her own father. I would have felt more sympathy for her had she actually been a likeable character, but I still felt bad for her.

    As for Morgause, I completely agree – she was VERY interesting. I am eager to see what Hollick does with her next, especially with regards to the mysterious little girl that was with her at the convent. I think she will turn out to be an amazing villain, but I would love it even more if Arthur had to work with her against Winifred in order to get the kingship.

    Thanks for your questions/comments!

  16. @Stephen – Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

    I actually felt sorry for Winifred. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like her, but I felt like she was more a product of her circumstances than an actual bad person. She was used by Arthur and his allies, as well as her own father. I would have felt more sympathy for her had she actually been a likeable character, but I still felt bad for her.

    As for Morgause, I completely agree – she was VERY interesting. I am eager to see what Hollick does with her next, especially with regards to the mysterious little girl that was with her at the convent. I think she will turn out to be an amazing villain, but I would love it even more if Arthur had to work with her against Winifred in order to get the kingship.

    Thanks for your questions/comments!

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