Review: The Kingmaking

The Kingmaking, by Helen Hollick

The Down & Dirty

The Kingmaking is Book One of The Pendragon's Banner Trilogy, by Helen Hollick, re-released by Sourcebooks on March 1. An epic undertaking, The Kingmaking is the tale of the mythical King Arthur and his queen Gwynefar, stripped of wizards, magic swords, and mythical ladies rising from lakes. It is the tale of Arthur as he may have been.

The Lit Crit

Many talented writers have spun the tale of Arthur and his knights of the Round Table (Mary Stewart notably comes to mind here), but it took author Helen Hollick to strip away the trappings of myth and magic and write what possibly might be the most compelling account of all.

Little is known of England during that murky time period between the abandonment of Rome and the invasion of the Normans in 1066. Hollick takes advantage of this and drawing from what little is known about the Angle, Jute and Saxon warlords that vied for control of England, she paints a vivid portrait of a divided land populated by a widely diverse population caught between their pagan past and the introduction of Christianity .

Here we are presented with an Arthur who is a product of these dark times, a complex man who is, in turn, both a brilliant strategist with touching compassion for his people and a

Hollick acknowledges the guidance of renowned historical fiction author Sharon Kay Penman in her forward - indeed the book is dedicated to her - and the influence shows. A comprehensive afterword to the novel reveals her meticulous attention to historical detail and provides a most satisfying end to this first novel of the trilogy.

But perhaps her most impressive strength as an author lies in her development of character, specifically the Pendragon himself. If you are looking for a saint-like Arthur, hoodwinked by his golden Guinivere (Gwenhwyfar), you won't find that here. Arthur is a red-blooded man of his times who takes women at his pleasure, lies and cheats as necessary to take what he feels rightfully belongs to him, yet still manages to remain - by and large - a sympathetic character you will cheer for.

Our Recommendation

Fans of Sharon Kay Penman will appreciate Hollick's complex character development, plot pacing, and attention to historical details while any afficianado of Athurian legend should appreciate this original vision of the myth. This is first-rate writing, indeed.

Historical fiction lovers, meet Helen Hollick. Enjoy!

Title: The Kingmaking, Book One of the Pendragon's Banner Trilogy
Author: Helen Hollick
ISBN-13: 978-1402218880
592 pages:
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Date: March 1, 2009

Other blog-stops on the tour:

Harriet Devine's Blog
Lazy Habit's of Thinking
carp(e) libris reviews
Historical Novels.Info
Musings of a Bibliophile
Reading Extravaganza
Medieval Bookworm
Books are my only friends
Peeking Between the Pages
we be reading
A Hoyden's Look at Literature
Books Ahoy!
Passages to the Past
The Tome Traveller
S. Krishna's Books
Jennifer's Random Musings


  1. Yay, Michele! I'm glad you liked this one! I have been a big Helen Hollick fan since I originally read this series in the 90s. She is right up there on my list with SKP! Can't wait to read your interview tomorrow...


  2. I'm on the fence on this one. I've just come to appreciate the historical fiction genre, but I'm not sure that's a period I'm interested in.

  3. Well, we do know some Anglo-Saxon history, but not this bit. ;) I think Helen did a great job imagining it!

  4. This one has been on my wish list. I love HF and I love the time period!

  5. I can't say that I'm a huge fan of the period, but that probably isn't fair. I'm just hopelessly inept in the history of this time and have read very little. Maybe if I gave it a chance, I'd like it. I like the idea of a character that is red-blooded with frailties...I hate all that pompous stuff!

  6. Great review Michele. I really enjoyed this one. One of these days when I have time I'm going to tackle the second one~my library has a copy or two.

  7. If so many are urging historical fiction fans to read this, is it any wonder my book lists never get shorter? Anyways, sounds most intriguing.

  8. Carey - I can see why you love her....she's right up there with Penman for me. I'm trying to track down the rest of the trilogy right now.

    Kathy - if you don't like the time period, this might be a toughie. I was on the fence over that, too, but loved the Arthurian aspect enough to read it. Just so happened that I ended up loving it.

    Meghan - you're right, she did a fabulous job!

    Beth - this one is worth hunting down. I think you'd appreciate the complexity of this one.

    Sandy - now with you, I can say that you would probably love Arthur's want to slap him up along side the head sometimes, but he is definitely a "man's man."

    Dar - good idea on the library for the remaining two books...I'll check mine, too, when I get home!

    Anonymous Child - if my wishlist has to be 6 miles long, then so does yours!

  9. Michele, so glad to see you enjoyed this as much as I did. Hope you get your hands on Hollick's Harold the King.

    As for the rest of the trilogy definitely follow Dar's suggestion and check your library. If they don't have it, see if they have and Interlibrary (ILL) program. Half the fun of the ILL's is seeing what odd-ball unknown books you can get and where they come from. Big money saver.

  10. Hello everyone - first of all thank you for inviting me onto this blog - I have had a great time on the Tour. And thank you so much for the fantastic review and all your comments!

    I hope you enjoy Book Two just as much.

    (and perhaps I should not say this, but the rest of the Trilogy is available from if you can't wait for the other two!)

    thanks again

  11. Hiya Michelle, How r u doing?!
    Is everything fine with you?

    I love Historical fiction genre :) and I have not read about this time period at all... would love to read this one :)

    lovely review girl!

  12. I liked Hollick’s depiction of Arthur: much more real-to-life than the traditional legend. I felt the author did a good job of blending history with myth, and creating an accurate picture of post-Roman Britain.

    Arthur definitely had moments where you disliked him, among his other good qualities. Gwenhwyfar was the same way. There were times where I questioned her, but overall, she was more like-able than Arthur.

    What did you think of the antagonist characters? Did you think they were well-rounded and complex? What did you think of Winifred? Did she have any redeeming qualities in your mind?

    Also, now that I think about it, I would have liked to see Morgause as a more regularly character throughout the novel. What do you think? I thought she was an interesting, conflicting character.

  13. Helen - thanks so much for stopping by....I'm a true fan now!

    Veens - I'm so glad you're back! Missed you!

    Steven - wow, I'm so thrilled to read your questions, I'm just beside myself....a real book discussion...very nice. Arthur was indeed a difficult character to like at all times. Just when he'd redeem himself, he'd turn around and do something which while I'm fairly certain was normal behavior at that time, isn't so likeable when viewed through 21st century Western eyes.

    I tried and tried to find something redeemable in dice. She was petulant and irritating, just like her mother. But I couldn't agree more regarding Morgause. I felt a tad more sympathetic towards her...not because I felt sorry for her, but more because I can see how a person of a certain temperment could behave like she does. She's a great villian, in my opinion and I'm looking forward to seeing how her role develops in the next two books.

    Love your comments here!

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