The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (March 2009)
Paperback: 592 pages
It is the time of post-Roman Britain. The Roman armies have fled from the island, leaving England alone in a power vaccum to decide its own fate. Rivalries compete for the throne, British against British, and with the strength of the Roman armies gone, the most powerful British ruler, Vortigern, looks to the Anglo-Saxons to help him secure his kingdom. Vortigern has a large backing among the contigent of other British nobles and Anglo-Saxons, made possible by his marriage to the daughter of the powerful Saxon warlord Hengest. Many accept this new alliance, willing to usher in new age Britain, while others still cling to the old ways, wishing to return the island to its pure British state and rid it of all foreigners. They see the mixing of British and Saxon blood as a threat, while others still long for the days of the return of the Roman empire, a dream that was never fulfilled.
Among Vortigern’s chief rivals is Uthr Pendragon, the man many still hold to as the true heir to the island kingdom. Uthr’s most powerful ally is Cunedda, ruler of the lands of Gwynedd (or a large area of modern day Wales). Though Uthr is a powerful and strong character in the early part of this novel, he is not the main focus of the story. His son, Arthur, rises up to become the actual hero to those born of pure British blood.
This is the story of Arthur. Though not the traditional Arthur of legend and myth: the knights of the round table, Lancelot, chivalry, and romance. The Kingmaking depicts Arthur as he truly was, or how he might have been. The factual history of the real King Arthur — if he was a king at all — is still shrouded in obscurity, but Helen Hollick does a good job of portraying him in a realistic light, as a man of war, ruthless and cunning yet mortal, and also caring and kind toward Gwenhwyfar, his true love.
Hollick’s characters are one of her strong points. They are well-developed in both strengths and weaknesses. There are times where it is difficult to defend Arthur regarding some of his decisons and actions, but regardless, you still pull for him. Gwenhwyfar is one of the most likeable characters, but there are moments when you might not agree with how she handles certain situations, and even though Winifred (Arthur’s wife) is deceitful and harsh, you still feel sorry for her at times. Adding to that, Arthur and Winifred have an interesting relationship that provides for some entertaining dialogue and interaction. Even Hollick’s secondary characters lend vital support to the story line.
Overall, the novel moves at a fluid pace, never bogging down or losing your interest. As mentioned before, her characters are well thought out — Hollick has a deep understanding and love of her characters — and one of the most exciting parts about reading the novel is that you can never guess what’s going to happen next. Hollick does a tremendous job of keeping the story unpredictable.
There were only a couple of things that bothered me, but nothing of signifcance to cause me to put the novel down. The first was the death of one of the main characters. I felt this person’s death deserved more attention and that the author moved past it too quickly. The second was the jumping around from one character’s perspective to another. The story would move in and out of characters’ thoughts, making it somewhat difficult to determine whose perspective you were in at times without going back and reading a certain passage a second time. The internal thought and dialogue helped in developing the characters, and Hollick handled this part nicely, but it was the quick switching between characters that made it a bit jarring. Also, I felt that some of the secondary characters’ perspectives could have been eliminated altogether.
The Kingmaking is an historical fiction novel set in post-Roman Britain. Through all the myth and legend, there is believed to be some truth behind the person Arthur. Hollick attempts to uncover this real-world Arthur, based on some real places and real people that existed during this time, but the author also draws on her own imagination and interpretation where events become muddled, blending legend and truth into a fascinating story of Arthur the man. You can read her historical note at the end of the novel to learn more.
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
*look for my interview with Helen Hollick next Monday (March 9)
Other reviews of The Kingmaking:
http://lazyhabits.wordpress.com/2009/02/20/the-kingmaking/ 2/21 and interview 2/27
http://lilly-readingextravaganza.blogspot.com/2009/02/kingmaking-by-helen-hollick.html 2/23 and guest blog 2/25
http://peekingbetweenthepages.blogspot.com/ 2/26 and guest blog 2/27
http://savvyverseandwit.blogspot.com / 3/2 and interview 3/3
http://readersrespite.blogspot.com/ 3/3 and interview on 3/5