The Knights of the Round Table (well, sort of)

A Reader's Respite has grown rather smitten with Arthurian literature over the past few years. Or rather, well-written Arthurian literature.

How many ancient legends have persevered so long? There's something magical about the knights of the Round Table and the quest for the Holy Grail.

Let's be honest: did anyone do it better than Monty Python? We think not.

The first historical mention of King Arthur popped up in the 9th century, where Arthur was depicted as a garden-variety soldier in 6th century Britain who bravely fought against those pesky invading Saxons.

Arthur's legend changed dramatically over the centuries (we like to think of it as a Dark Ages version of The Telephone Game) until 1138 A.D., when Geoffrey of Monmoth put pen to paper and came up with Historia Regum Britanniae, or History of the Kings of Britain.

Ol' Geoff was quite the story-teller, no?

Geoffrey's version of King Arthur looks much more familiar to modern-day readers. In it, we find the wizard Merlin, the famous sword Excalibur, and even the mythical isle of Avalon.

Wizards, magic, romance, betrayal and a crazy lady who lives in a lake bestowing legendary swords. What more could a reader ask for?

a little creepy, you've gotta admit

Modern authors have re-written Arthur's tale countless times. There are romance versions, fantasy versions, even sci-fi versions of the legend. Many of these novels turned out trite or tedious at best.

Our favorite re-tellings are those who treat it as pure historical fiction. No magic. No fancy-schmancy romance. We like realism.

Helen Hollick is one of those authors who manage to brilliantly create a real-life Arthur as he may have been. (After all, there is no definitive proof that he did or did not exist.) In 1994, Hollick published the first novel of what came to be called The Pendragon Series, entitled The Kingmaking, which Sourcebooks (God bless their cotton socks) re-released this past March.

Hollick gave us a nitty-gritty, flawed, courageous, even - inadvertently perhaps - sexy Arthur. Perhaps, in our opinion, one of the very best portrayals of this legendary warrior King. We admit it: A Reader's Respite fell a little in love.

Okay, a lot in love. With Hollick's writing and interpretation and even with Arthur himself.

Now comes the re-release of the second installment of the series: Pendragon's Banner. We were delighted to find this novel as gripping as the first. Arthur's character is still as flawed as ever, but Hollick's research of this time period is phenomenal. The realism that permeates the entire story puts her series in a class by itself.

And the best part? There's still a third installment yet to come when Sourcebooks re-releases the third novel in the trilogy, The Shadow of the King, this coming spring.

If you haven't seen this series first, start with the first book. We'd be willing to wager that these books will find a place into your permanent library.


  1. This was a really interesting post. And I agree that the Lady of the Lake is a bit creepy--watery tart, don't they call her? :)

  2. i need to check these book out!

  3. Thank you once again, for helping educate the uneducated (me). This is not my genre of choice, however, if you are in love, then it must mean something. And you say you have a cold, black heart!

  4. I loved this series, although the third one fell off just a tad. Like the new cover, better than the one for The Kingmaker.

  5. Well, you've convinced me. I'm adding these to my list of to-reads! Great post, as usual.

  6. I have the first one here. I love Arthur book. I really need to get reading (the blogger's favorite comment).

  7. I love Arthur stories. I have to add these to my to-buy list.

  8. You've convinced me! I'll have to pick up Kingmaking soon.

  9. Hello - thank you for the wonderful comments (blush!)

    I am at last pleased with some decent covers. The original edition of the Kingmaking (as published by St Martins) was awful.

    And I also have to admit I fell in love with my Arthur...

  10. I'm a big fan of Arthur books (and movies too). It is such a flexible story -- so many authors have made it their own. And "Camelot" is one of my favorite musicals. There is just something about the story that seems to capture so many people's imaginations. I've not heard of this series but I think I might have to check it out.

    And yes...Monty Python and the Holy Grail is pure genius!

  11. Oh, my the Lady of the Lake is freaky! She's a bit fishy, huh? LOL!

  12. I much prefer realism in Arthurian stories too.

  13. I loved The Kingmaking so I am definitely looking forward to Pendragon's Banner.

  14. I too have a soft spot for all things Arthur. Helen Hollick's books have been on my TBR for a while - maybe time to check the library again... I prefer the historical fiction versions rather than the fantasy/sci-fi ones. Just more interesting to me.

  15. thank you for your interest everyone - I hope you have a good read, and enjoy my version of the Arthur story


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