THE KINGMAKING by Helen Hollick
“”It is said by the Saex that this sword has qualities of none other and it has a story behind its being. One day a young man, a warrior, was walking beside a lake. He came across a boat and paddled to the centre of that lake. There he waited until the sun and the moon had chased each other twice across the sky. And then, as dawn’s fingers touched the glass surface of the sleeping lake, the waters parted and a Lady arose from beneath. A beautiful woman, a goddess. She held a sword – a sword that could only have been forged on the anvil of a god. She charged this mortal to take the weapon into the world of men and to wield it until such a time as the man it was meant for came to take it by a trial of strength, A man who was destined to be the greatest of all kings. ‘That man,’ this goddess said, ‘shall be king above all kings; a man supreme, who will make the dark light, and turn the blood of war into the calm waters of peace.’”"
Review by Jana L. Perskie (APR 1, 2010)
I have always been drawn to all things Arthurian. In college I read Sir Thomas Malory’s extraordinary Le Morte d’Arthur, and later really enjoyed T. H. White’s Once and Future King, Mary Stewart’s series of novels, “The Arthurian Saga,” and Bernard Cornwell‘s trilogy, “The Winter King.” The characters and worlds that the above authors created are magical, enchanting, and primarily based on folklore and myth.
In the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth was the first to write of King Uthr Pendragon and the Authorian legend with his “History of Kings of Britain.” A few minor references to Uthr also appear in Old Welsh poems. But there is no real evidence that Uthr or Arthur actually existed, let alone Merlin, Gwenhwyfar/Guinevere and Lancelot.
Helen Hollick’s take on King Authur in The Kingmaking, the first book in the “Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy,” is most unusual and I was immediately drawn into her story and was amazed at how believable her characters and narrative are. This is extraordinary “historical” fiction rather than fantasy. Here Ms. Hollick follows in the footsteps of her mentor, Sharon Kay Penman, to whom she dedicates the book. The author’s Arthur is no mythical monarch of yore, but a flesh and blood, complex man. He is a courageous, young warrior king, at times cunning and ruthless, who wenches, drinks, adores his lovely Gwenhwyfar and tries to stomach his miserable marriage to another woman. Arthur is the son of a Romano-British nobleman, Uthr, and, like his father, he 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 novel takes place in 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 secutiry 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. The native tribes, never really unified except for one brief moment in time under Queen Boudicca.
Vortigern and Uthr Pendragon, both great war leaders, are rivals for the position of supreme ruler of Britain. The Saxon warlord Hengest and his followers are Vortigern’s paid allies. Cunedda, Lord of the Votodini, is an independent power in Gwynedd, Wales, and inclined to side with Uthr, and later Arthur, against Vortigern. Cunedda eventually loses his lands north of Hadrian’s Wall and is exiled to the mountains of Gwynedd. Uthr the Pendragon, flees the country. The victor, Vortigern, declares himself King of Britain and, to keep his throne, hires vast numbers of hated Saxon mercenaries and takes a Saxon wife, Rowena, the daughter Hengst.
Uthr eventually returns to his country and in Londinium he meets the beautiful Ygrainne, wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. He instantly falls in love with her and is determined to have her for his own. Gorlois, aware of what is happening between his wife and Uthr, leaves with Ygrainne for his castle in Cornwall. Uthr then invades Gorlois’ lands and beds Ygrainne, getting her with child – Arthur. Gorlois was killed in the fighting and Uthr marries Ygrainne, which, (supposedly), makes Arthur his legitimate son. Uthr also has an evil mistress, Morgause, Ygrainne’s younger sister, who plays a big part in the two later books.
The Kingmaker begins with Arthur’s arrival, at the age of fifteen, in Gwynedd. Authur, thought to be a bastard son of a serving girl, was treated badly as a child by both his (secret) mother, Ygrainne, and Morgause who loathed the boy. He was shunned and tormented by all, children and adults alike. The only person who treated him decently was Uthr, who fostered the boy out to his brother Ectha. Uthr kept the secret of Authur’s birth, as did Ygrainne and Ectha, because they were fearful of Vortigern’s malice toward the child, who, as Uthr’s heir, posed a serious threat to the man’s power.
Arthur has the position of a serving boy to Uthr. He has always looked up to his lord and dreams of becoming a leader of men and a great warrior himself. In Gwynedd, a rebellion is planned between Uthr, Cunedda, and their allies in order to bring down the tyrant king Vortigern. The war party departs, leaving Arthur behind with Cunedda’s young sons and only daughter, Gwenhwyfar. During this time Arthur and Gwenhwyfar forge a strong bond of friendship…and more. Their harmony and peaceful days terminate abruptly when the war party returns, defeated, with the news that Uthr is dead.
The troops, grieving and demoralized, think that all is lost when Cunneda announces that, “There is another Pendragon – still young, I grant, we need to wait for him to come of age.” “Here before the hallowed sanctity of our Stone, I give you our next king! I give you the Pendragon – Arthur!” He is the rightful Lord of Dummonia and the Summerland, Lord of Less Briton and would be King of a country united in peace and prosperity!
I provide background material here in order to give a picture of the times, setting and circumstances of The Kingmaking. However, I do not want to include any spoilers. Let it suffice to say that in order for Arthur to learn the skills of a warrior and keep the peace, he must pledge his sword to the powerful and victorious warlord, his enemy Vortigern. To cement Arthur’s loyalty, Vortigern dictates that Arthur must marry his daughter – the scheming, materialistic Winifred. The unhappy youth agrees. But what of the newly born love between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar?
The Kingmaking is the beginning of an epic story which takes the reader from the hills of Gwynedd to the bloody battlefields of the island kingdom and across the stormy Channel. The drama and tension between characters and events is intense. We begin to know the young Arthur as he grows from adolescence into a young man and capable warrior. The years encompassed in these pages will test his strength and determination. And this is also a love story.
Helen Hollick brings her multi-layered, complex characters to life on the page. I especially enjoyed her depiction of the feisty, independent Gwenhwyfar – who is somewhat of a warrior in her own right. Ms. Hollick’s interpretations of the the Sacred Stone, The Lady of the Lake, Stonehenge, etc., are very original. The Kingmaking is a compelling tale – I could not put this book down, and I cannot wait to read Book Two, Pendragon’s Banner.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 28 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Sourcebooks Landmark (March 1, 2009)|
|REVIEWER:||Jana L. Perskie|
|AMAZON PAGE:||The Kingmaking: Book Three of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Helen Hollick|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy: