Monday, March 2, 2009

Review and Blog Tour: The Kingmaking (Pendragon's Banner, Book One) by Helen Hollick

The fifth century in Britain was a time of upheaval and change. The Romans had abandoned the island and a power vacuum was created with their going. The native tribes, never unified except for one single, shining moment under Queen Boudicca, immediately returned to warring against each other. Cunedda, Lord of the Votodini, lost his lands north of Hadrian's Wall and was exiled to the mountains of Gwynedd in Wales. Uthr the Pendragon, great war leader and Cunedda's ally, fled the island. The victor, Vortigern, declared himself King of Britain and, to keep his throne, hired vast numbers of hated Saxon mercenaries and took a Saxon wife.

The Kingmaking begins with Arthur's arrival, at the age of fifteen, in Gwynedd. He comes as a serving boy to Uthr, but despite his low status he dreams of becoming a leader of men. A rebellion is planned to reclaim Britain from Vortigern. The war party departs, leaving Arthur behind with Cunedda's young sons and only daughter, Gwenhwyfar. In the short peaceful time they are together, Arthur and Gwenhwyfar forge a strong bond. But the harmony is shattered when the war party returns, defeated, with the news that Uthr is dead.

The demoralized troops feel that all hope has been lost with their leader. But Cunedda has a surprise announcement for all assembled. Uthr had a son, declared dead at birth but actually hidden away, in plain sight, to keep Vortigern from killing the Pendragon heir. Arthur, humble servant, is actually Uthr's son.

Arthur now has the chance that he dreamed of, and he grabs it. Unfortunately, he is young and untried, has little skill with sword or spear. He must learn and the only way to do that is to pledge his sword to the one in power, his enemy Vortigern. To cement his loyalty Vortigern exacts a terrible price, Arthur must marry Vortigern's daughter: greedy, scheming Winifred.

Gwenhwyfar is heartbroken, then horrified when she learns that she is to be forced to marry Vortigern's nephew and right hand man, Melwas. To prevent the marriage to a cruel and violent man, her family helps her escape to Less Britain, Arthur's childhood home, beyond the reach of Melwas.

The coming years will test the strength and determination of the Pendragon and his followers. They will learn lessons well, bide their time and overcome seemingly impossible obstacles on the way to their Britain an honorable King and the hope of a peaceful future.

This is Historical Fiction at its best. The author has taken the story of Arthur and deftly shaken off the myth and fantasy that cling to it. Gone are Merlin and his sprinklings of magic, instead we have Arthur as he might have really been. A man, a leader, a soldier who drank and used women, who loved and was loyal but also cheated and lied. A warrior who adopted tactics that worked, no matter the cost. A man trying to find footing in a rapidly changing world, a complex world that included those that clung to Roman ways, followers of the Goddess and the druids, and the vast, spreading tide of Christianity.

Here you will find rich, multi-layered characters, breathtaking drama and aching sadness. Crumbling Roman cities and soaring Welsh mountains. Brilliant battles and horrible losses. A complex, compelling story and a refreshing look at the origins of a legend.

I have long been a fan of Helen Hollick's writing and The Pendragon's Banner trilogy is at the top of my list of favorite Historical Fiction. The other two books in the series are Pendragon's Banner and Shadow of the King. I can't recommend them highly enough, they are all fantastic historical novels!

The Kingmaking is published by Sourcebooks. ISBN 978-1-4022-1888-0

Here's the list of blog tour stops...see what other reviewers have to say! 3/2 and interview 3/3 3/3 and interview on 3/5 3/4 3/4 3/5 3/5 3/5


S. Krishna said...

I really enjoyed this book as well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a fantastic review Carey - and thank you for having me aboard your blog.
Hope to meet you again for Book Two!


Zibilee said...

I really liked your in-depth review. You make this book sound fascinating. I haven't really read many books that focus on these particular characters, but I might give this one a try. Thanks for bringing my attention to this one!

Michele said...

Carey - I now completely understand why Helen's books are among your favorites....I absolutely love her writing!! Your review does justice to this book!

Ladytink_534 said...

I feel so left out! Everyone seems to be reading this and it sounds so good too lol.

Michele said...

I think this one will make my top 5 of the year....I just hope they re-release the whole trilogy! Nice, nice, nice review!

Anonymous said...

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.

Thoughts from an Evil Overlord

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.