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The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick

Helen Hollick‘s The Kingmaking is the first of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, which will be published in March 2009 by Sourcebooks. Thanks to Paul Samuelson for sending the book along for my review.

This first part in the trilogy begins in 450 AD in the midst of the Middle Ages while Britain remained in a tumultous period politically. Arthur is merely a bastard son at the beginning of this novel, and his foster father is kin to Uthr Pendragon. In the first chapters of the novel, Arthur grows into a man while visiting Gwynedd with Uthr and his abusive and cantankerous mistress Morgause. He meets Gwenhwyfar, daughter to Uthr’s faithful friend Cunedda, and begins to have deeper feelings than friendship for her. The relationship between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar is rocky in the beginning, but blossoms through understanding and mutual respect. However, there are circumstances surrounding the death of Uthr and a failed attempt to regain control of Britain that hinder the ability of their relationship to grow.

“The oars lifted then dipped to kiss the white foam. The sail dropped and the ship, tossing her prow like a mare held over-long curbed and kicking high her heels, leapt for the harbour sheltering beneath the imposing fortress that was Caer Arfon.” (Page 20)

The description in this book helps to set the scene of Britain in the Middle Ages, with its dark and ominous feel, but also its wild beauty. There is more to Britain during this time than readers may remember from their school days. My favorite passage in the book uses description to show Arthur coming into his manhood, along with the other adolescents of Gwynedd.

“The boys, stripped to the waist, were turning new scythed hay, making idle, breathless conversation as they tossed the sweet smelling, drying grass. Arthur’s bruising was a faint memory of shaded yellow against suntanned bronze skin; gone was that weary look of watchfulness and unease, replaced by relaxed laughter and happy contentment. His hair was longer, the close-cropped Roman style beginning to grow, with a slight curl, down his neck and flop across his forehead.” (Page 89)

Although there is great potential in the descriptive writing, some of the scenes fall flat as the narrative lists actions of the characters rather than showing the characters in action. Unlike the Arthurian legends of old which have mysticism and Merlin at the center of Arthur’s rise to power, Hollick’s retelling focuses on the realities and abilities of the “real” Arthur and his determination to regain control of Britain after the death of his true father.

Readers looking for mysticism and magic will be disappointed with this retelling. However, if readers are easily engaged by books with intrigue, battles, and strategy, this novel will not disappoint.

At nearly 600 pages, you can believe Hollick extensively researched her subject and it shows, from her use of place names connected to the regions at the time to the spellings of her main characters. Although portions of the book were a little dry and long, creating nicknames for some of the characters–Gwenhwyfar as Gwen or her brother Osmail as Ozzy–made it easier to become absorbed in the story.

Unfortunately, after 200 pages I stopped reading as certain scenes made me wonder what their purpose was, like when Gwen is aloft in a tree in the prime location to overhear Uthr and Morgause in intimate conversation. Considering the conversation that follows is not integral to the storyline, it makes the reader wonder why Gwen is in the tree in the first place to overhear the conversation.

***Giveaway Details*** (Part of the BookRoom Reviews Book Giveaway Carnival)

Sourcebooks has kindly decided to giveaway 3 copies of this novel to three lucky U.S. and Canadian readers.

I will pass along my ARC of the book to one lucky international reader; so please designate whether you are international when you enter the contest.

To Enter:

1. Leave a comment here; something other than “enter me” or “pick me”
2. Make sure you leave an email or blog address that works
3. Let me know if you are an international entrant, so I can place you on the list for my gently used ARC.

Deadline: March 8, 2009 at 5PM EST.

This Contest is NOW CLOSED!

Other blogs on the tour:

http://harrietdevine.typepad.com/harriet_devines_blog/2009/02/the-kingmaking.html 2/20
http://lazyhabits.wordpress.com/2009/02/20/the-kingmaking/ 2/21 and interview 2/27
http://carpelibrisreviews.com/the-kingmaking-by-helen-hollick-book-tour-giveaway/ 2/23
http://www.historicalnovels.info/Kingmaking.html 2/23
http://www.bibliophilemusings.com/2009/02/review-interview-kingmaking-by-helen.html 2/23
http://lilly-readingextravaganza.blogspot.com/2009/02/kingmaking-by-helen-hollick.html 2/23 and guest blog 2/25
http://chikune.com/blog/?p=488 2/24
http://booksaremyonlyfriends.blogspot.com/ 2/25
http://peekingbetweenthepages.blogspot.com/ 2/26 and guest blog 2/27
http://webereading.blogspot.com/ 2/26
http://www.caramellunacy.blogspot.com 2/26
http://bookthoughtsbylisa.blogspot.com/ 3/1
http://jennifersrandommusings.wordpress.com/ 3/1
http://rhireading.blogspot.com/ 3/1
http://passagestothepast.blogspot.com/ 3/2
http://thetometraveller.blogspot.com/ 3/2
http://steventill.com/ 3/2
http://savvyverseandwit.blogspot.com / 3/2 and interview 3/3
http://www.carlanayland.blogspot.com/
http://readersrespite.blogspot.com/ 3/3 and interview on 3/5
http://libraryqueue.blogspot.com/ 3/4
http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/ 3/4
http://www.myfriendamysblog.com/ 3/5
http://samsbookblog.blogspot.com 3/5
http://goodbooksbrightside.blogspot.com/ 3/5

***My Current giveaway of Dan Simmons’ Drood. Check it out, here.***

Also reviewed by:
Historical Tapestry