Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book Review: The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick

"You are the Pendragon, rightful Lord of Dumnonia and the Summer Land; Lord of less Britain. By all that is right, you ought be seated where Vortigern sits...  You ought to be King."

Here lies the truth of the Lord of the Summer Land.

This is the tale of Arthur flesh and bone. Of the shaping of the man, both courageous and flawed, into the celebrated ruler who inspired armies, who captured Gwenhyfar's heart, and who emerged as the hero of the Dark Ages and the most enduring hero of all time.

This is the unexpected story of the making of a king - the legend who united all of Britain.

Book One of the Pendragon Banner Trilogy

Synopsis courtesy of

My Review

3.5 Stars

The first novel in English author Helen Hollick's Pendragon Banner trilogy, The Kingmaking follows the life of Arthur Pendragon from his early teenage years to his ascension to the throne of Britain.   This Arthurian tale, however, differs significantly from the legend with which most readers are familiar.   Prominent Arthurian figures such as Merlin and Lancelot have been excluded, there is no round table, and chivalrous is definitely not a word used to describe the Arthur Pendragon of The Kingmaking.  Rather than being set in an age and place of magic and mysticism, Hollick's story is planted firmly in 5th century Britain during the Dark Ages, a violent period in British history. 

Full of the rich historical detail that is the hallmark of the other Helen Hollick novels I've read, it is evident that a significant amount of research went into the preparation of The Kingmaking.   As a result, Hollick makes what is known of fifth century Britain come alive for the reader.   The novel's greatest strength is that the life and times of this King Arthur are presented in such a way as to lend the greatest credibility to the legend.  Devoid of the fantastical elements (e.g., magic, sorcery, etc) found in most other Arthurian writings, The Kingmaking is an entirely plausible story.   Nevertheless, I found this Arthur uninspiring and even, at times, unlikeable.  There is a hardness to his character that, while probably necessary to be a successful leader during such a ruthless era, made it difficult for me to connect with him.   As a result of this, his love affair with Gwynyfar, a character I did like, didn't resonate with me throughout most of the novel and I never understood what it was about Arthur that  Gwynyfar was drawn to.  While I had difficulty connecting with Arthur himself, the novel's secondary characters are well drawn and intriguing, even those, such as Arthur's loyal companion Kay, who aren't featured prominently in the story.  I especially enjoyed Hollick's depiction of the story's female antagonists, Morgause and Winnifred, and look forward to finding out what life holds for them in book two. 

Overall, The Kingmaking is a worthwhile read, especially for readers interested in Arthurian legend or Dark Age Britain.  While I had issues with the Arthur portrayed in this novel, the overall story and characters kept me turning the pages wanting to find out what was next.  I look forward to reading the next installment in the Pendragon Banner trilogy.   

Arthur's story continues in Pendragon's Banner

Note:  This book comes from my own personal collection.