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Review of Pendragon’s Banner by Helen Hollick

Pendragon’s Banner - Helen Hollick - King Arthur - Medieval BritainPendragon’s Banner by Helen Hollick
Publisher: Sourcebooks
ISBN: 1-4022-1889-3 

Pendragon’s Banner is the second book in an Arthurian trilogy by Helen Hollick. The first book, The Kingmaking, shows how Arthur as a young teenager grows and comes to power as the High King of Britain. The second book shows how Arthur handles the position once he is there, as he must manage the affairs of the entire realm and play the dangerous game of politics to hold onto his throne.

Arthur is rivaled on many sides by his enemies: his ex-wife, Winifred; his father’s mistress, Morgause; Lot (Morgause’s husband) and the Picti in the north; and his uncle Ambrosius.

Winifred believes her son Cerdic to be the rightful heir to Britain and will do anything in her power to bring down Arthur and his wife Gwenhwyfar and their three sons. Morgause despises Arthur and wants vengeance and uses her husband Lot to carry out  her bidding. And Ambrosius, while not exactly an enemy of Arthur, still clings to the old Roman ways and makes life difficult for Arthur politically.

Hollick’s series attempts to portray the real life Arthur, not the man of legends. Arthur is, like any other warrior, hardened from war and skilled in battle, but this novel shows a more sensitive side of Arthur than did The Kingmaking. There are times when it seems Arthur wants to give up on being king, and his life as ruler makes things difficult on his marriage. Gwenhwyfar, who is more of a warrior herself in the first novel, seems only to want peace for her family and for Arthur to stay at home with them. They have three children, and Gwenhwyfar seems content to stay at home and raise her family. The constant traveling of Arthur and the threat on her sons’ lives by Winifred drives a perpetual wedge between her and her husband.

I enjoyed how Hollick rounds out her characters even more in this novel. Where I liked Gwenhwyfar more in the first novel, there were aspects about her in this one I did not care for. And vice versa with Arthur. I actually felt more attached to him in Pendragon’s Banner because I felt Hollick showed a more human side of him. Also — for some reason – there were times in The Kingmaking I felt sorry for Winifred. Not so in this novel. Creating these reversals and fluctuations of feelings toward the characters is — in my mind — what makes the sign of a good author. I also was glad Hollick brought back Morgause and gave her a more prominent role. Morgause’s character generates important conflict in the story.

Overall — even with the stronger development of the characters — I enjoyed the story of The Kingmaking more. There were times in Pendragon’s Banner where the plot lumbered along a bit, and some of the scenes felt contrived to me, like they were put there for sole purpose of generating some sort of conflict or action but did not truly enhance the characters of plot in any meaningful way. Regardless, Hollick is a talented writer, and her trilogy is worth the read. She has a strong grasp on early medieval Britain and the man who was Arthur.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Other reviews on the Pendragon’s Banner blog tour:

The Tome Travellers Weblog (10/12)
A Reader’s Respite (10/12)
Enchanted by Josephine (10/14)
Fumbling with Fiction (10/14)
Found Not Lost (10/15)
Nan Hawthorne’s Booking the Middle Ages(10/15)
Jenny Loves to Read(10/16)
The Review From Here(10/17)
The Courtier’s Book(10/18)
Chick Loves Lit(10/19)
Love Romance Passion (10/20)
He Followed Me Home… Can I Keep Him?(10/20)
The Impasse Strikes Back (10/21)
S. Krishna’s Books (10/22)
Books Like Breathing (10/23)
Passages to the Past(10/24)
Virginie Says(10/25)
Reading with Monie (10/26)
Books & Needlepoint(10/27)
Capricious Reader (10/27)
Books are my Only Friends (10/27)
A Sea of Books (10/28)
Bloody Bad (10/28)
Revenge of the Book Nerds! (10/28)
Booksie’s Blog (10/28)
Devourer of Books (10/29)
Peeking Between the Pages (10/29)
Starting Fresh (10/29)
Historical Tapestry (10/30)
Medieval Bookworm (10/30)
Book Soulmates (10/30)
Susan’s Art & Words (10/30)
Steven Till(10/31)
Café of Dreams (10/31)

11 thoughts on “Review of Pendragon’s Banner by Helen Hollick”

  1. I liked the characterisation, too, and the stormy relationship between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar. Oddly I felt almost sorry for Winifred once or twice in this novel and not in the first one!

  2. I have this trilogy on my TBR pile and am looking forward to reading them. I”ve been trying to finish Jack Whyte’s Camulod series before I start on these though.

  3. I enjoyed Pendragon’s Banner(it’s been a while since I read it, though). But my favorite Hollick so far is Harold the King That, too, would make an interesting review.

  4. Daphne, Jack Whyte’s series is definitely on my list. I’ve been wanting to read it for a couple of years now. How do you like it so far? Which novel are you on?

  5. I have just ordered the first book in this series, and am really anxious for it to arrive. It sounds like this is a very different take on Arthur, and one that I really would enjoy. I find it interesting that you had such strong reactions to the characters in this book, but not so much in The Kingmaking. Sometimes I really like it when the characters in my books push my buttons and get me really riled up, but other times it turns me off of the book. It’s kind of weird, and I never know which way it will turn out when I am reading about someone particularly frustrating. Did you find that the book was less enjoyable due to the reactions you had towards some of the characters?

  6. Zibilee, I did like The Kingmaking more than Pendragon’s Banner. I think it had a lot to do with the shift in characters, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good story. I do like characters to be multi-dimensional. I enjoy the shift in emotions where I really like a character in one part of the book but later he or she may do something that causes me to re-evaluate my feelings toward them. If you’ve ever watched the television series Lost or read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, you’ll know what I’m talking about. My feelings toward characters in those series shift on a constant basis.

    I felt the same way reading Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Series. I loved the first book The Last Kingdom (one of my favorites of all-time) and in the second book, The Pale Horseman, the main character started to annoy me with his arrogance, so I did not like the novel quite as much.

    Still, these multi-faceted characters are what make a novel or series great! I’m betting in Hollick’s third book in the series, I’ll have an even different view of the characters, a more complete view of them in total.

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