Friday, March 06, 2009

King Arthur: Real or Imagined.
It makes a great story either way.

Book review: The Kingmaking
by Helen Hollick

Just like everyone else, I’m familiar with the stories about King Arthur, Guinevere and the knights of the round table. Are they true? Did all this really happen? Did Arthur and Guinevere really exist? The fact is, nobody really knows. The real question is, does it matter? No.

And author, Helen Hollick would agree.

I’ve seen the movies and read other books about Arthur, so when I was received Helen Hollick's ‘The Kingmaking’, a 500 plus page paperback from Sourcebooks, I wondered if this would be another journey into myth and fantasy or an attempt at history. It’s a little of both.

A good book lets me explore new lands, experience life in the past, present or future, and get to know the hearts and minds of the characters. It’s an enriching experience that comforts and inspires me. I treasure my nightly reading time so, if I don’t like one book, I go onto the next. I have to say that I looked forward to picking up 'The Kingmaking' every night. I savored every page.

Author, Helen Hollick created a more ‘real’ Arthur and Gwenhwyfar than I’ve ever encountered before. She creates a world that is believable and realistically detailed. I could tell that she’d actually seen some of the locations she describes. I liked the depiction of the characters daily lives in a down to earth way, the familiar family dramas such as sibling rivalry and the conflicts between paganism, Christianity and the monarchy. Even though it’s not historically accurate, it feels real.

Hollick says, “I am not expressing fact, merely what might have been. The dates are my own interpretation, gleaned from a hotch-potch of muddled theories and chronologies. They may not ally with those proposed by the professional historian, but as virtually no date of this period can be established as absolute fact, I feel I can justify my theories.”

With this in mind, Hollick sets out to tell her story of the Dark Ages of Britain around 450 AD. The Roman Empire is crumbling leaving tyrant, Vortigern, to rule the British until Arthur, the son of Uthr, can grow up and fight for his right to the throne.

There are battles and lovemaking, political marriages and mistresses, deaths and births, and squabbling heirs to the throne. The usual Arthur, Merlin and sword in the stone myths are missing here.

Hollick explains, “As for Arthur, no one knows if he was real. A few scattered poems and early Welsh bardic tales were adopted by the twelfth century Normans who were responsible for the stories we know so well today. The knights, chivalrous deeds and Round Table belong to this later period, as did the fictitious invention of Lancelot, his adultery with Gwenhwyfar, and Merlin the wizard. You will not find them in my tale.”

Although, I didn’t miss the myths because Hollick’s depiction of a more ‘real’ Arthur was much richer even if it’s not an accurate history, it’s still a great story.

If you ‘d like to learn more about Helen Hollick, her website is ‘The Kingmaking’ is book one in the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy


Patrick Gracewood said...

Susan, funny how King Arthur and Co. is up again in the zeitgeist. Ridley Scott is set to film the story. Found out reading Robin Wood's blog on Woodcraft. He's making the turned wooden bowls the actors will use.
check it out at:

Susan GT said...

Wow,Patrick..Ridley Scott doing King Arthur. I'm imagining it now, could be so cool. Maybe the re-emergence now is due to a need for heroes, people succeeding against the odds, and rising above difficulties.

I'll check out those bowls, too.

Helen said...

Hi - just dropping by to say thank you for the wonderful review. I thoroughly enjoyed the "virtual" book tour, and look forward to meeting everyone again when book two, Pendragon's Banner is published (Sept 2009)

Thank you again
Helen Hollick

Susan GT said...

You're welcome, Helen.

I be looking forward to reading the next book, too!