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The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick

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Misfit
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The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick

Post by Misfit » Sat November 22nd, 2008, 12:16 am

The Kingmaking begins in post Roman Britain as the exiled Uthr Pendragon lands in Gwynedd, Wales to join Cunedda in an attempt to overthrow Vortigern and drive the Saxons out of Britain. The battle does not go well, and fifteen year old Arthur is revealed as Uthr's son. Too young and inexperienced to make his claim, Arthur eventually throws in his lot with Vortigern as he learns the arts of war and builds his own army and cavalry. Arthur is in love with the Prince of Gwynedd's daughter Gwenhwyfar, but she is promised to another and he marries Vortigern's delightfully wicked daughter Winifred for her dowry. As Vortigern's pact for peace with the Saxons fails due to treachery, Arthur's time has come to defeat the Saxon Hengest and claim the crown of Britain with Gwenhwyfar as his queen.

Although you'll find pretty much the usual characters as you do in other books on the Arthurian legend, what sets this one apart is Hollick's take -- no knights in shining armor, no Merlin and his magic, no Lancelot -- this is a gritty down to earth vision as the author envisions Arthur. Even whilst still young and with a young boy's ideals, Arthur is far from being pure as the driven snow. He drinks, he wenches and when he does lead his army into battle he is a fearsome and ruthless warrior. Winifred and her equally wicked mother schemes both together and behind each other's backs in bids for power were priceless, as well as Winifred's constant plots to get herself back into Arthur's bed, and keep Gwenhwyfar out of it. Gwenhwyfar was nicely portrayed as a young girl growing up a bit of a tomboy in Gwynedd, and while I enjoyed her portrayal as a strong woman there were times she was just a tad bit too independent and feminist.

If you're looking for another glorified, romantic version of Arthur with honorable knights, magic and ladies in constant peril waiting for her knight to rescue her then this series is not for you. However, if you're looking for something more down to earth and realistic you might want to give this a whirl - just be warned the battle scenes are brutal and bloody. Interesting side note, apparently Sharon Kay Penman was a friend and/or mentor of Hollick and the book is dedicated to her. I found Hollick's style and sentence structure to be very similar to Penman's earlier work, The Sunne In Splendour - it's a bit different and does take getting used to. Out of print (and some versions quite spendy), but being republished in early 2009. Next up in the series, Pendragon's Banner (Pendragon's Banner Trilogy). 4.5/5 stars.

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Post by Tanzanite » Sat November 22nd, 2008, 3:22 pm

Sounds like a good book! I recently aquired all three of the books in the trilogy (for decent prices) and am looking forward to reading them. I really liked Hollick's Harold the King.

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Post by Alaric » Sat November 22nd, 2008, 4:10 pm

I've got this on my TBR. I love Arthurian fiction, particularly the actual historical setting of ones like this. Thanks for the review.
Last edited by Alaric on Sat November 22nd, 2008, 4:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by LCW » Sat November 22nd, 2008, 4:25 pm

This looks like a good one. I've been wanting to read a Hollick novel but haven't been sure which one to start with. That and I've found them hard to come by over the internet. Either they're not sold new or the used are overpriced. Thanks for the great review!!
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Post by Carla » Sat November 22nd, 2008, 6:19 pm

I liked the Pendragon trilogy, especially The Kingmaking. If I remember rightly, I also thought Gwenhwyfar was a bit excessively feminist, but then who's to say she wasn't like that (if she existed, of course). I prefer it to the rather droopy whiny versions of Guinevere you sometimes see, at any rate :-)

I seem to remember hearing that the Pendragon trilogy is being reissued by Sourcebooks in the US soon, so if that's correct it should make them easier to find.
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Post by Misfit » Sat November 22nd, 2008, 6:50 pm

[quote=""LCW""]This looks like a good one. I've been wanting to read a Hollick novel but haven't been sure which one to start with. That and I've found them hard to come by over the internet. Either they're not sold new or the used are overpriced. Thanks for the great review!![/quote]

I'd start with Harold, its the best and you can buy it new, Amazon listing here.
I seem to remember hearing that the Pendragon trilogy is being reissued by Sourcebooks in the US soon, so if that's correct it should make them easier to find.
Yes, the first is coming out early next year, Amazon listing here.

I'm 140 pages into the second book and enjoying it very much. Looking forward to Morgause (sp?) and Winifred and more mischief making (to put it mildly). I got the first two at the library (lucky me) and hoping to get the last via ILL. If not, Abe has them reasonably priced, or should I say not as outrageously priced as they Amazon used listings.

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Post by sweetpotatoboy » Sat November 22nd, 2008, 11:25 pm

I loved this trilogy. Similar in some ways to Cornwell's Arthurian trilogy, which I also enjoyed.

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Pendragons Banner

Post by Misfit » Sun November 23rd, 2008, 9:18 pm

Just finished the second book and I thought I'd just post my very brief review here instead of starting another thread.

Pendragon's Banner takes up where The Kingmaking left off as Arthur Pendragon has a constant battle to hold on to his crown and keep peace among the rival British and Saxon factions. With no real home of their own, Gwenhwyfar and their sons ride with Arthur and his men, but this eventually leads to tension between the two, especially after a tragic accident threatens to destroy the marriage permanently. Uthr's former mistress Morgause plots with King Lot and the Picti of the North to destroy Arthur and his family, as Arthur's ex-wife Winifred continues her scheming to make her son Cerdic as Arthur's heir.

There's actually a whole lot more to it than that, but I'm not into book reports and we all know the main gist of the legends. What you don't find in Hollick's trilogy is all the glorified magic and enchantment of many other books on the period - no Merlin, no Knights of the Round Table and no Lancelot. Arthur is a hard drinking, unfaithful (at times), hot tempered ruthless warrior who does what he has to do to survive and protect his country and his family. Just be warned, the battle scenes are brutal and bloody, so if you're looking for a prettified story of Arthur and his Gwenhwyfar I suggest you look elsewhere. Next up and last in the trilogy Shadow of The King. 4.5/5 stars.

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Post by amyb » Tue November 25th, 2008, 2:18 pm

Misfit....thanks for the review. This book has been on my wishlist for some time now and I was so excited to hear that they are re-printing it on March 1, 2009! Whoo hoo!

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Shadow of the King

Post by Misfit » Fri December 12th, 2008, 7:37 pm

***This review may contain spoilers for those not familiar with the legends***

Shadow of the King takes up where Pendragon's Banner left off, as Britain is at peace and Arthur and Gwenhyfar live at Caer Cadon with their young daughter Archfedd. Arthur is convinced by the Roman Emperor to sail for Gaul and defend it against the barbarians who wish to destroy it, along with Arthur's lands in lesser Britain. Once there, the campaign becomes mired in politics, backbiting, intrigues and treachery and Arthur is there much longer than originally intended. Once the battle is engaged, it does not go well and Arthur is presumed dead and left to Morgaine's care to see to his burial.

Arthur's uncle, Ambrosius, now governs Britain with his council, but they are not strong enough to fight off the Saxon threat, including Arthur's wicked ex-wife Winifred and her son Cerdic. Gwenhyfar grieves for Arthur's loss, but she must marry and have a husband to look after her interests. Not happy with Ambrosius' choice she looks to Arthur's younger cousin Bedwyr who has been in love with her since he was a young boy. They become lovers but something always holds Gwenhyfar back from the marriage ceremony, until one day when rumors come from The Place of the Lady that sends Gwen in search of.......

Well I won't tell since I am not into spoilers, although those familiar with the legends know how the story goes. The rest of the story details how Hollick envisions the politics and history of the time, the growing threat of the Saxons as the Britains battle to keep them at bay and the struggles for power between Arthur's sons Cerdic, Medraud (Mordred) and Cynric (or is he Cerdic's son?), until the final fateful battle that threatens to end Camelot once and for all.

As much as I did enjoy this book, I also found it to be very slow paced at times and definitely the weakest in the trilogy. Also, the author's prose was very reminiscent of Penman's early works but by the third book those short sentences and oddly placed commas were getting a bit tiresome. If you're looking for another glorified, romantic version of Arthur with honorable knights, magic and ladies in constant peril waiting for her knight to rescue her then this series is not for you. However, if you're looking for something more down to earth and realistic you might want to give this a whirl. A generous 4/5 stars.

The series in order,
The Kingmaking
Pendragon's Banner
Shadow of the King

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