PENDRAGON’S BANNER by Helen Hollick
“By full dark, the boy was abed and asleep, curled up with his two brothers, Gwydre four and Amr now almost two. Gwenhwyfar stood holding the tent flap open, staring at the night and the rain. It was not cold and the rain had scented the earth, grass and trees; the air was fresh and pleasant. Lamps glowed from inside other tents, the sound of men laughing or preparing for sleep drifting across to her ears. Arthur’s tent, over the way, was well lit. Laughter came from there also.”
“She sighed. The past months had been filled by petty squabbles over silly, meaningless things. They never seemed to talk these days, to laugh. Or to love.”
“She let the flap fall, wandered to her own bed, and sat on the edge unfastening the pins and braiding of her hair. Was it her fault, this conflict between Arthur and his uncle? She removed her tunic and sat for a while in her under-shift. His frustration and anger had to have an outlet, a vent, but it was so hard taking these constant blows. Arthur was not one to let things drop, to leave the water unstirred. The argument that had sent him storming from Lindum had spread ripple upon ripple, creating waves that slapped angrily against the shore, and, as each season had passed, risen into a darker storm.”
Review by Jana L. Perskie (APR 1, 2010)
Author Helen Hollock’s Pendragon’s Banner is the second novel in the “Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy.” As with Book One, I found myself unable to put this book down. Ms. Hollick continues here with her story of King Arthur, a unique tale without magical or supernatural elements. It is more complicated than the first novel. Many of the characters from before, return here. I was immediately drawn into the narrative and was amazed at how believable her characters and storyline are. This is extraordinary “historical” fiction rather than fantasy. Ms. Hollick’s Arthur is no mythical monarch of yore, but a flesh and blood, complex man. He is a courageous, warrior king, now approaching his middle years. At times he is cunning and ruthless. He wenches, drinks, has a terrible temper, and adores his lovely Gwenhwyfar and his three sons.
Arthur, the son of a Romano-British nobleman, Uthr, follows the “old religion,” the soldiers’ god, “Mithras.” The Christian Church was still young during the Dark Ages and most people remained pagan for quite some time. Many of Arthur’s problems eventually stem from the vying for power between the Church and the old ways.
The setting is an island country situated off the North West coast of Europe – now called Great Britain – during the 5th century. It was inhabited by the Celtic people known as the Britons and a collection of various Germanic peoples, the Anglis, Jutes, and Saxons. This was a time of great upheaval and change. “The province of Britain had been abandoned to fend for herself, for the great power that had for four hundred years dominated an Empire was dying; but in Britain a few influential men clung obstinately to the security of Rome’s tattered skirts, refusing to believe their established way of life was over, finished, and a new about to begin.” Meanwhile, a power vacuum was created when the Romans left.
Arthur marries his first wife Winifred, the Saxon granddaughter of his hated rival Hengst. Hengst’s son, Vortigen, also a bitter enemy, forced him to wed her in order to forge an alliance and keep the peace. Arthur has a son with Winifred, Cerdic, who could be in line for the throne. He divorces Winifred after a short while and then remarries Gwenhwyfar, whom he has loved from boyhood..
He fights to unify the land of Britain, though war and strife plague him constantly. Arthur faces numerous and seemingly insurmountable problems. His uncle Ambrosius, Uthr’s youngest brother, longs for a return to the Roman Empire. Also, numerous chieftains are ready to fight to the death to take Arthur’s place as High King and Supreme Ruler. Far in the north the evil Morgause, who wants to be queen, plots his downfall. To add to the mix, a series of heartbreaking losses threaten his marriage to Gwenhwyfar. The two quarrel frequently and Arthur’s many infidelities are insupportable…at least to me they are, but I don’t live in the 5th century. He actually discusses some of his lovers, a few taken for political purposes, with his wife. Ugh!!
Both Arthur and Gwenhwyfar grow and undergo major transformations in “Pendragon’s Banner.” Arthur is a man who can suppress his emotions when it comes to making decisions, leading his army and his prized calvary in war, and when ruling his kingdom. Emotionally, however, he is still like the boy the reader first met in “The Kingmaking.” Here he is, once again, forced to face Morgause, his father’s mistress, who abused him so in his childhood. Now she is determined to make him suffer as a man, especially since she has acquired power of her own. Morguase has laid a curse on Arthur вЂ“ that if he pursues her, none of his sons will live. Another problem he must face concerns his ex-wife, Winifred, who schemes to get the kingship for the son she had by him. And, several plotting warlords refuse to accept him as their rightful king. Now more than ever, he needs the one person he has always loved and trusted. He needs his Gwenhwyfar. She has been, since their adolescence, his best friend, confident, counselor and lover. But their relationship has deteriorated. The question is whether they can rebuild it in time to face their enemies together. There is a sense of foreboding throughout the storyline.
The character Gwenhwyfar is, perhaps, my favorite. She is a strong and independent – a woman who loves her husband, with all his strengths and shortcomings, and of course she adores her children. She seems to make space for everyone in her life, even while traveling constantly under less than ideal conditions. Of course, she makes mistakes, mostly driven by emotion, but these errors only make her more human.
Oddly, Arthur, Gwenhwyfar, and their sons have never had a home of their own – a castle, a Caer. They’ve spent years wandering, leading their army and the calvary, the loyal and skilled Artoriani, all over the country, putting down rebellions, forging alliances and and making sure the diverse peoples of Britain know he their ruler. All this fighting to keep a kingdom united, frequently cause the family to move to new locations, living a nomadic life in tents. And the travel, under less than ideal circumstances, has caused a further rift between the couple. Gwenhwyfar, a warrior in her own right, and the children, follow Arthur to almost every battlefield, or they spend time with Gwenhwyfar’s family in Gwynedd, (today’s northwest Wales). Now, they find the perfect place to build their home, a safe haven, in the Summerland, a castle they name Caer Caden. There is no Camelot nor knights of the round table here, however. But, the security that Gwenhwyfar has been longing for is now within reach. And for a while it does seem as if the outside world has allowed the family the peace and time to heal that it so richly deserves. Obviously, this precious, quiet time does not last for long.
The novel spans a period of about seven years during which the sprawling narrative includes much warfare, battle scenes, political scheming as well as details of intimate personal relationships.
Once again, the author delivers a vivid portrait of England in the Dark Ages, complete with the complex political struggles of a tribal nation.
Pendragon’s Banner is a wonderful and skillfully written sequel to The Kingmaking. Because of the complex nature of these books, I advise that you read them in sequence.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 11 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Sourcebooks Landmark (March 1, 2010)|
|REVIEWER:||Jana L. Perskie|
|AMAZON PAGE:||Shadow of the King: Book Three of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Helen Hollick|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:The Kingmaking|
Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy: