Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Review: Pendragon's Banner by Helen Hollick
Author: Helen Hollick
Genre: Historical fiction
Trade paperback, 464 pages
Book Source: Paul from SourceBooks, the publisher
Brief synopsis from Sourcebooks:
After claiming his throne on the blood-soaked fields of Rutupiae-striking fear into the hearts of his enemies-only Morgause "the witch" dared to challenge Arthur in this sequel to Helen Hollick's The Kingmaking. In a deadly game of politics and back-stabbing, Arthur must deal with the reality that taking a kingdom is far different from keeping one. This book span six years, from 459-465 A.D., and details Arthur's struggles to stay in power and keep his family alive.
Two enemies in particular threaten everything that is dear to him: Winifred, Arthur's vindictive first wife, and Morgause, priestess of the mother and malevolent Queen of the North. Both have royal ambitions of their own.
This is not a fairy tale or fantasy. There is no Merlin, no sword in the stone, and no Lancelot. This is a tale of battle, intrigue and an irate Morgause who delights in nurturing the belief that she is a witch-especially after her very public curse on Arthur's sons...This is an account of Arthurian legend, based on historical evidence and meticulous research; a story of King Arthur as it may have actually unfolded.
This story picks up right after Arthur has been made King, October 459. Rome has long since fallen and all of her lands are up for grabs. It is a ruthless and lawless time. Arthur is 24, has a young family, but no place to call home. Arthur must constantly patrol his new kingdom squashing brash upstarts, while making treaties with the Saxons and appeasing those leaders who still believe Rome may come back into power. Gwenhwyfar is his beautiful wife and the perfect mate for him. Gwen is very strong, willful. She fights for what she believes in and cherishes her family.
What strikes me most about this book is the realness of these characters. Their emotions and thoughts are so gut-wrenching at times. You feel their love for each and their pain. Believe me, Arthur and Gwenhwyfar probably have more than their fair share of grief, however, given the times they live in, it's probably par for the course. I have read or watched several incarnations of the Arthur and Gwenhwyfar story, but never before have these characters been represented in this manner. Arthur's love for Gwen, his pain and sorrow over personal losses are palpable. Arthur's immense loneliness at times makes you want to hug the guy. It's not easy being King in the early Middle Ages. You have no one to trust but yourself and your wife of course. (hopefully)
With respect to Gwenhwyfar, she has her own hopes and fears. She knows her husband is King, and must constantly battle to keep peace and stability in the land. However there is a part of her that despises his title and the choices that come with it. Being King takes Arthur away from her and their children. Gwen is fearful that one day Arthur may not come home. All Gwen wants is safety, security, and a home. Arthur does too, deep down, but he loves his country as much as he loves his wife. He wants to do what is right by all the peoples of the land. Gwenhwyfar is a warrior wife, and by the end of this tale you will be amazed at what she can do. Don't do wrong or try to come between a woman and her family. You will certainly pay the price, as Morgause finds out.
Ah Morgause, another strong willed woman who wants control of England and her own destiny. She uses whatever and whomever she can to her advantage. Morgause is the great manipulator. You have to give the woman credit for trying.
There are many factions vying for control of England. Each one is as brutal and conniving as the next. There are several battles fought in the book but Hollick's writing makes them interesting and suspenseful. I must admit, I was a little nervous from time to time about the outcome and the fates of the characters. I was sad to see some of them pass away.
All in all this was an excellent book about characters who have been hotly debated, probably for centuries. Hollick has made both Arthur and Gwenhwyfar real and down to earth. I did not read the first book, The Kingmaking, before this one, and I had no difficulties in picking up the story or it's characters. This can be a stand alone book, although it will leave you wanting more. Pendragon's Banner is a great story of a charismatic leader during Britain's infancy. It is easy to see why people are always so fascinated with Arthur and his story. Hollick's version brings an added dimension to the King Arthur tale and will fascinate you as well.
My Rating: 96/100
This Friday, October 16th, Helen will be stopping by for an interview. Please stop by if you can.
Thank you to Paul from SourceBooks for sending my review copy. I thoroughly enjoyed it!