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The Kingmaking (Pendragon's Banner Series #1)

The Kingmaking (Pendragon's Banner Series #1)

3.7 144
by Helen Hollick

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A novel of Arthur as he really was.

In the first book of this exciting trilogy, author Helen Hollick brings to life Arthur Pendragon as he really might have been. Leaving behind the fairy-tale element of Merlin's magic and the improbable existence of Lancelot, Hollick instead transports the reader to the early years of Britain circa 455 AD and tells the


A novel of Arthur as he really was.

In the first book of this exciting trilogy, author Helen Hollick brings to life Arthur Pendragon as he really might have been. Leaving behind the fairy-tale element of Merlin's magic and the improbable existence of Lancelot, Hollick instead transports the reader to the early years of Britain circa 455 AD and tells the Arthurian legend in a solid and believable way.

For one, Arthur does not pull a sword from a stone using superhuman strength; rather, he is named heir to Britain (if he can win it from the tyrant Vortigern) while standing near a "hallowed stone, the symbol of a warrior's strength and the chieftain's right of leadership." Later, a sword won in battle signals his place as Britain's King.

This is a story of harsh battles, secret treasonous plots, and the life-threatening politics of the dark ages of early Britain. Intertwined through it all is the often-tested love of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere in Welsh - her name as it really would have been) as they struggle to survive and conquer to see Pendragon become King.

"If only all historical fiction could be this good."
Historical Novels Review

"Helen Hollick has it all. She tells a great story, gets her history right and writes consistently readable books."
Bernard Cornwell

"Hollick joggles a cast of characters and a bloody, tangled plot with great skill."
Publishers Weekly

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this first volume of what promises to be a monumental historical trilogy, rookie British author Hollick depicts Arthur's rise from A.D. 450, when he was a 15-year-old boy of hidden parentage, to A.D. 457, when he took his place as the King Arthur of legend. The story combines private emotions and public statecraft as marriages, alliances and enemies are made and unmade to suit the politics of the era. Hollick mixes elements from fifth-century history, myth, early romances, contemporary fantasy and other novels about Arthur, adding her own inventions for good measure. The treatment of Gwenhwyfar and her love for Arthur (depicted here as star-crossed even without Lancelot's help) is especially vivid. Though the novel contains no supernatural aspects, with its exotic setting, passionate characters and epic battles and intrigue, it still should appeal to the fantasy fans to whom most Arthurian adventures are addressed. The language, too, is influenced by genre fantasy, especially in its dramatic descriptions and reliance on archaisms; but this big-hearted novel's historical speculations alone should make it of interest to the non-fantasy reader as well. (Nov.)
Library Journal
As the rightful son of Uthr Pendragon, Arthur dreams of uniting the warring kings of Britain. Gwenhwyfar's hope, as the only daughter of Cuncedda, the Lion Lord of Gwynedd, is to join Arthur's cause. Hollick's first novel re-creates the uneasy political climate of fifth-century Britain, a land suffering under the rule of the tyrant Vortigern. Stripped of its medieval trappings, the story of Arthur's rise loses none of its legendary power. Most libraries will want to add this well-researched, skillfully constructed trilogy opener to their collections.
Roland Green
Making her debut, a new and promising author inaugurates an Arthurian trilogy, Pendragon's Banner, with an account of Arthur's youth and early manhood, periods even more open to speculation than the rest of his career. She covers Arthur's learning of war and intrigue and his relationships with his father, the young Guinevere, and scores of others--some historical, some legendary, and some creations of Hollick's fertile imagination. She gives Arthur a taste for wine, women, and song, and also a slight lack of scruples (the influence of modern psychology shows here), thereby cutting her work out for herself when she has to transform him into a hero-king in the coming books. Meanwhile, however, she has begun with a readable story on a subject with an established audience of enormous size.
From the Publisher
"A fast-paced, action-packed start to one of the best Arthurian series written." - Book Loons

"I am looking forward to the next books in the series" - Lazy Habits of Thinking

"Most impressive of all is Hollick's ability to lose the reader in her craft of storytelling. Scenes come alive, jumping off the page and engaging the reader. " - Carpe Libris Reviews

"Readers who enjoy historical romance with a hefty dollop of warfare stirred into a setting of barbaric splendor will find much to relish." - Historical Novels Book Review

"I happened to really enjoy The KingMaking and look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy. Grade A+.
" - Musings of a Bibliophile

"With Hollick's imagination, knowledge and apparent passion, the author pulls the reader into the whirl of life, warring, revenge, loyalty and love.
" - Reading Extravaganza

"Helen Hollick has made it pretty clear that she's thrown out the Arthurian legends and attempted to re-imagine this as it really would have been, using the original Welsh poems. I think that's awesome. " - Medieval Bookworm

"The realistic treatment of the subject matter is what sets this book apart. " - Books are my only friends

"Helen Hollick's writing is fantastic and the story is enthralling. " - Peeking Between the Pages

"I found myself drawn back to the text anytime I put it down, anxious to read further, to discover what happened" - A Hoyden's Look at Literature

"This book was both educational and entertaining.

" - Books Ahoy!

"The Kingmaking was an amazing read that any fan of historical fiction will enjoy, even those unfamiliar with Arthurian lore. Despite its size, readers will race through the novel, eager to discover what happens to Arthur and Gwenhwyfar. The only disappointment comes in the fact that it ends.
" - S. Krishna's Books

"A complex story full of intrigue, drama, emotion, and more, I was swept away by the story as Ms. Hollick brought this legendary figure to life.
" - Jennifer's Random Musings

"If you're looking for an engrossing Dark Ages tale with action and romance or you'd simply like to take another look at the legend of Arthur I highly recommend this book! " - RhiReading

"The Kingmaking was a fabulous novel, hard to put down and Helen Hollick's writing is fantastic." - Passages to the Past

"Here you will find rich, multi-layered characters, breathtaking drama and aching sadness. A complex, compelling story and a refreshing look at the origins of a legend.
" - The Tome Traveller

"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. " - Medieval History, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Writing Fiction

"If readers are engaged by books with intrigue, battles, and strategy, this novel will not disappoint.
" - Savvy Verse and Wit

"A story of human love, hatred, loyalty, betrayal, war and politics." - Carla Nayland's Blog

"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.
" - A Reader's Respite

"I found Helen Hollick's more realistic approach to this beloved legend refreshing and eye-opening.
" - Library Queue

"If you are looking for an engaging read with great characters and plot, plenty of backstabbing and a dash of romance, you will enjoy this book. " - The Bookworm

"Lots of darkness, fighting, betrayal and war...all the great elements of historical fiction." - My Friend Amy

"It is a journey filled with blood and battles, love and redemption, and so many other things that make up a great novel. I mean this is historical fiction at its' best and I was entranced.
" - Sam's Book Blog

"Hollick's writing is smooth and beautiful. She seamlessly transports her readers back to the Dark Ages.

" - So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

"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. " - Susan's Art and Words

"The writing in these books is engaging and occasionally funny. " - We Be Reading

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Pendragon's Banner Series , #1

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Chapter One

He was ten and five years of age and, for the first time in his life, experiencing the exhilaration of the open sea and, for this short while, the novelty of leisure. The boy, with a grin fixed as wide as a new moon, folded his arms on the rail and leaned forward to watch the churn of foam boiling about the ship's bows. Salt spray spattered his face, tingling against skin that bore the faintest trace of manhood about the upper lip and chin. The sharp, sea-tang smell burst up his nostrils like a cast spear to his brain and hammered behind his eye sockets. He tossed his head high, back, bracing his body with his hands against the leap and plunge of the deck, and laughed with the pure energy of unequalled pleasure.

His eye sought the furl of the Dragon Banner flying proud from the masthead. He twisted his body to see it better—a snake-like tubular shape, curling and writhing with a life of its own. Streamers shrieked with the passing of the wind, and the head flashed gold in a display of fire sparked by the caught rays of the sun. Ah, but it was good to be out in the open! Out on the sea, heading for Britain with Uthr Pendragon's war host!

A sister ship, the same as this great war-beast, save that she flew no dragon, plunged into the cleft of a tossing wave, thrust herself forward, gallantly keeping pace. The boy waved to men on board, grinning the wider to receive a brief flung acknowledgement.

Then he saw Morgause watching him, standing as straight and stiff as the single mast.

A fine-bred lady, Morgause, with the figure of a goddess and the vanity of an empress. She held her cloak tight around her shoulders, her slender fingers clasping a rose-coloured silk veil that held her sun-gold hair in place against the ripping wind.

If the ship was the perfection of sail, then she, to look upon, was surely the perfection of woman. Venus, Uthr called her in the intimacy of their lovers' bed. Perfection to the naked eye, often marred when examined close by a flaw within—hers the arrogance and cruelty that came with high ambition.

The boy's pleasure faded as fast as a tossed stone sinks below the surface of a calm pond. Why did the Lord Uthr need bring her? Why her and not his wife— although she could be as bad, with her constant praying to God and perpetual muttered litanies. An invading army was no place for a woman, not even for the mistress of the man who considered himself to be Britain's rightful king.

Her eyes—cold, calculating, ice-blue eyes—bore into him; evil eyes that never smiled except at the indulgence of her own twisted pleasures. His right hand was behind his back; he made the protective sign against evil, knew she was aware he made that sign. Strange, from tales he had always assumed witches to be ugly, dark creatures, not having the beautiful fair skin of Morgause.

He tried again to feel the joy of the ship but the excitement had faded, lost under this shadow of her foreboding. Instead, the lad ducked below deck and made his way to where Uthr's soldiers squatted playing dice or board and counter games. He was safe from her down here—she would not come where the men lodged—although it was so much better to be out there, in the air and sunlight…

Lord Uthr, called the Pendragon, approached Morgause from behind and wrapped his great oak-branch arms around her slender waist. She stiffened and pulled away from him, not caring at this moment for intimacy.

"You ought not let the boy do as he pleases, Uthr," she said. "Give him leave to take holiday and he will be fit for nought when it comes to returning to duties."

Uthr laughed, a deep bear-growl rumble. "He's just a lad. Leave him."

Morgause made no answer. She had no intention of letting the boy run wild, unchecked and undisciplined. Why Uthr had brought him she had no idea. He was nurtured as foster son by Uthr's brother—but a war host was no place for a boy who, in truth, was no more than the bastard brat of a long-dead servant girl. Uthr found the boy to his liking, but to her mind he was a lazy, roughedged, insolent whelp who needed regular beating to remind him of his place. Common gossip favoured the foster father, Ectha, as the brat's unknown sire— although there had been some who had whispered of it being Uthr himself. He had the more likely reputation, would once have rutted with any whore available. A smile slithered across Morgause's lips, so carefully painted with vegetable dye. Not now. Now, he lay only with Morgause, youngest sister to his God-possessed wife.

"They say, below decks," Uthr said, nibbling at her ear—she attempted to brush him aside—"I have brought you with the intention of finding you a suitable husband." He ignored her flailing hand. "Shall I do that, my pretty one? When I have lopped the tyrant Vortigern's head from his noble shoulders and placed myself as King of all Britain, shall I wed you to some noble lord?" He swivelled her around, aimed a large wet kiss at her lips, smudging the red colouring. "Or shall I set aside my wife Ygrainne and wed you myself? Queen Morgause. It has a nice ring!"

She would have felt pleased had she known him to be serious. But Uthr was always jesting, always making fun of her aspirations. Curtly she answered, "My lord will do with me as he may please."

"Ha!" Uthr laughed again. "At this moment it pleases me to stand here on this swaying deck and kiss you." He glanced around. "It would please me even more had I a tankard of wine in my free hand! Where's the boy got to?"

Morgause said nothing, glanced instead at the wake foaming behind the speeding ship. Happen Providence would supply a discreet chance to tip the brat overboard before they reached Britain?

Instead, Fortuna followed the boy. Showing herself in the guise of squalling rain and a blustering westerly wind, she came stamping over the horizon with the dawn. Uthr's soldiers, landmen not seafarers, huddled below deck groaning as their stomachs heaved up to their throats. The Less Britain sailors scurried regardless, taking a reef into the square sail and jibing close to the wind. Thunder was brewing, would be upon them before mid-morning. For the boy, the storm was thrilling. To his delight, he found himself and Uthr the only passengers braving the deck.

Weather-seasoned sailors grinned at him as they scuttled about, great waves of spray soaking their clothes to the skin, the wind beating in their faces and snarling through the Dragon Banner overhead. Uthr ruffled the lad's hair, sharing his wild exhilaration.

"Is a battle like this?" the boy asked, eyes wide as a silver salver, salt-encrusted hands gripping the ropes along the rails. "Is it as exciting?"

Uthr laughed, making a hasty grab at his cloak that swirled in a gust of mauling wind. "Aye, lad. Danger breeds a sharpness that courses through your blood as hot as a man's lust for a beautiful woman." He watched fascinated as lightning lit the blue-black sky from horizon to horizon. "Always," he shouted through the following roar of thunder, "be aware. Keep your head, your sense. When you throw a spear, throw your soul with it. Let your sword be one with your arm." He made accompanying gestures, casting an imaginary spear, cleaving the air with a sword. "Keep tight control, boy. You will feel fear; fear pumps your blood the faster, but let not the fright touch your face. Keep it close, tucked well behind the shield of calm expression." He put his arm around the lad's shoulders and declared with a gusted laugh, "The same applies to handling women." He grinned. "The secret there, lad, is to let them think they hold control!"

Meet the Author

Helen Hollick lives in London, England with her husband, daughter, and a variety of pets, which include several horses, cats, and two dogs. She has two major interests: Roman/Saxon Britain and the Golden Age of Piracy—the early eighteenth century. Her particular pleasure is researching the facts behind the small glimpses of history and bringing the characters behind those facts to full and glorious life. She has an Honours Diploma in Early Medieval History and is co-scriptwriter for the movie project 1066.

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Kingmaking 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 143 reviews.
kherbrand More than 1 year ago
First sentence: He was ten and five years of age and, for the first time in his life, experiencing the exhilaration of the open sea and, for this short while, the novelty of leisure. So begins the book, The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick. We join Arthur at 15 on a ship bound for Caer Arfon and Gwynned - home of Cunneda and his daughter Gwenhwyfar. He has been brought on the voyage by Uthr Pendragon - much to the chagrin of Uthr mistress, Morgause. She cannot understand why Uthr favors the boy. She sees him as the bastard child of one of the servants - being raised as a foster son by Uthr's brother. As the story unfolds, Uthr is killed in a battle with Vortigern - fighting to be the rightful King of Britain. Arthur is devastated until Cunneda announces that he - Arthur - is the rightful heir of Uthr Pendragon. His identity had been kept hidden to protect his life from Vortigern. When I first picked up this book - I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I was not a big King Arthur fan - and knew little about that era. However, Helen Hollick's book drew me in from the beginning. I loved that she gave the pronunciation of the names and after awhile I found myself reading them "correctly". It gave me a sense of authenticity. The book was not hard to read (like I thought it would be) due to the era, but instead was very engrossing. I even carried it with me to my son's bus stop - and it is a HEAVY book at 563 pages. This is the first book of her Pendragon's Banner Trilogy. The other two books are Pendragon's Banner and Shadow of the King!
BookishBlonde More than 1 year ago
The Kingmaking was the perfect antidote for The Queen of Camelot. I had been in the mood for a good Arthurian tale, but The Queen of Camelot left a bad taste in my mouth so I went looking for something to help me rid myself of that sour story. I found it! This interpretation is very different from others I've read. Hollick focuses on a possibly historical warlord that may have inspired the later chivalric mythology. Absent are the wizard Merlyn and the mooning Lancelot but they are not truly missed. Instead we have a very real Arthur and a Guinevere who could, and probably would, have kicked The Queen of Camelot's ass...well, at least slapped her and told her to grow up! Set in the tumultuous years following Rome's abandonment of Britain when the Saxon backed Vortigern ruled The Kingmaking introduces us to the adolescent Guinevere and Arthur. The tale follows them as they mature into adults, fall in love with each other and the dream of a united Britain free of those who would subjugate her , and learn to navigate the tricky politics of their time. The Kingmaking is well written, with vibrant and thoroughly developed characters, exciting action, and excellent exploration of the growing tension between the druids, the "old ways", and the new Christian religion. I will definitely be reading the rest of this trilogy!
MerlinAvalon More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed this book from beginning to end. It is engrossing, well written and stands on its own binding as it were among the Arthurian stories out there. This is not a book for those who want to delve into the more mythical/romantic side of the Arthurian legends, no. This is a solid read using creative and historical ideas in an imaginative and realistic way. So many Arthur books lean on the traditional Merlin/Excalibur/Camelot magick to lure in readers, this actually allows readers to ponder the validity of the actual man himself. I enjoyed the license taken with some of the geneology of the characters, mainly the fact that Gwen is the daughter of Cunedda; and especially like the fact that traditional Welsh was used in the book as well. Well worth the read.
readtomuchMN More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down! Well writen not too many people to keep straight and great story line! Great book!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read the greate telling of Arthurian legend by White and Cornwell so I wasn't sure about a yet another story. Really enjoyed this new, non-magical/fantasy spin by Hollick. She says it's a novel but it is written more like historical fiction. This gives it a real fresh perspective. Arthur is a fascinating character in this tale as always. But this time we see his a more flawed, and sometimes even evil side to him. Story is set in Britain of course, but weaves in Wales and interestingly remnants of the Roman empire. This is what gives it that historical more realistice feel! Looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Kingmaking was a disappointment. It is definitely not in the same league as Jack Whyte's, Mary Stewart's or Bernard Cornwell's Authurian legend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was not bored until the halfway point of the novel. Here the editor let the writer and reader down by not doing the job. Too long and simply yawnworthy for the last 200 pages. Not in league with other writers in the genre, but again, I feel this is more of an editing failure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought I would take to a historical fiction about King Arthur and Camelot like a duck to water. Sadly, Arthur is portrayed as an unredeemable misogynist, wife beater, rapist, whore-monger, slave owner, woman and children killer, and an all around egotistical, drunken, hypocritical lout. I completely understand the necessity of a flawed hero, but Arthus is an utter villian! I read some of the other reviews about how refreshingly realistic this King Arthur tale is and, if that is indeed the case, I am truly shocked at the nasty reality behind the fairy tale. I am on page 300 and am unsure if I want to forge ahead with Arthur. I frankly believe it is impossible to turn him into the hero...he belongs in prison after what he did to the slaves at the goldmine. Horrible characterization aside, the writing is extremely clunky and juvenille with the author constantly resorting to telling you how each character feels rather than allowing the reader to infer for himself. If I actually had to pay for this dross, I probably would have given one star, but I awarded an additional star out of sheer relief that my free book Friday option wasn't the Berenstein Bears again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Got this for free friday as i really enjoy arthurian legend, but i am wondering just what the heck i am reading? Arthur as a roman? No excaliber? Arthur marrying someone else??? This tale reeks. I am struggling to finish it in hopes it will improve, but it is extremely boring, and after finding out it is a trilogy, which i despise, i definately can say i will not be wasting money on any sequels. This author ruined the Authur legend for me. She needs to do some research on the Authurian legend, because i truly believe King Authur was not a roman.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This horrible book was sold and charged to me by BN without my approval!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
On an old tale.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very hard to read & get into. I wish I wouldn't have wasted my money on it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There is no magic or Merlin in this book. Helen Hollick portrays Arthur as a flesh and blood man. She makes him desirable and heroic without eggeration. I could not put the book down from the first page and the same is true for the other books in this trilogy. In fact I have read all three of the Pendragon trilogy two times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I rarely give up on a book. I read 24 chapters and decided the book was getting worse instead of better. The book reads like a really long Harlequin romance novel. The characters are shallow and predictable. Don't waste your time or money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was not particularly a fan of Arthur or the long war scenes, but I did like Gwenhyfar and thought this was a fairly engaging read overall
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