Monday, February 23, 2009

'The Kingmaking' by Helen Hollick

I count historical novels among my most beloved genres. Rarely do I get disappointed with authors taking on the task of writing historical fiction. And The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick didn’t disappoint me either. As a matter of fact it greatly exceeded my expectations.

The Kingmaking is a story about one of the most mysterious, legendary characters, King Arthur. It tells the story of Arthur’s childhood, adolescence and his rise to the position of the king. It also tells the story of love between him and Gwenhwyfar, a beautiful and strong-minded woman. It all starts in 450 AD. It’s a period of British history of which not much is known and a lot is shrouded in legend and mystery. But Helen Hollick did a superb job giving us Britain with its villainous leaders trying to usurp power for themselves, with its customs, its brutality, the dawn of Christianity and fading of old gods. Simply put, she brings the Dark Ages to life.

Probably, the boldest move Ms. Hollick made was in giving us Arthur Pendragon as he was before he became King Arthur. His childhood was horrible. He was believed to be a bastard of suspected but uncertain heritage. He was hated by Morgause, a lover of one person that truly loved Arthur, Uthr Pendragon. Because of this one woman’s hatred and abuse, Pendragon grew up to hold all women in disregard, to use them for his pleasure and nothing more. What you’ll read, will be far different from the chivalrous King Arthur of the legends. It is a breath of fresh air, however, because we finally have a chance to take what used to be a subject for fantasy tales, with Merlin heading the company, as a very real and very rich part of the British history.

Another character, just as important as Arthur, is Gwenhwyfar. She is a wonderful woman. I couldn’t help but keep comparing her to Boudica. Gwenhwyfar, Arthur’s one and only love, might be insolent at times, however, one can’t help but side with her. She is strong, stands her own and is very independent, in deed and mind. That is no small feat considering she lives in 2nd century Britain, when women were generally no more than servants and bedmaids to their husbands.
Ms. Hollick fully displays her talent with this first part of The Pendragon’s Banner trilogy. There is enough action and nail-biting moments in there to sit up late at night reading. With her imagination, knowledge and apparent passion, the author pulls the reader into the whirl of life, warring, revenge, loyalty and love.

Special Thanks to Paul S. from Sourcebooks for providing me with a copy of this book.

Visit the authors MySpace page dedicated to the Pendragon's Banner trilogy here.