Sourcebooks, 2009 (1995)
Read an Excerpt
Reviewed by Alex Telander
riginally published in Britain during the early 1990s with the tagline, '
a novel of Arthur as he really was,
is the first book in the
Pendragon's Banner Trilogy
from British author Helen Hollick. Hollick certainly does her research in bringing to life a war king known as Arthur, who would grow through storytelling to become a magical, immortal legend.
he Arthurian legend is an interesting one that has seen and continues to see countless retellings, due to the fact that there is very little evidence proving the existence of a warrior king known as Arthur; mentions of Merlin and Guenevere are even rarer, while Lancelot is a complete fabrication by Chrétien de Troyes in the twelfth century. What is known is that the fifth century was a very turbulent time for Britain with its desertion by Rome and its forces; incursions of Saxons, Angles, and Jutes; and invading forces of Scots and Picts (from Ireland and Scotland respectively). Britain was a melting pot of different peoples, and the Britons were left wondering what to do after being supported and protected for so long by the Romans. It was in this time – it is thought - at the dawn of the Middle Ages, that a warrior king arose to lead Britons to defend their country.
ollick uses Wales as her setting for Arthur and his people, using Welsh names like Gwenhwyfar (for Guenevere), Cunedda (for Gwenhwyfar's father), and Uthr (for Arthur's father, the rightful king of Britain). While Camelot is thought to be located near Glastonbury and Tintagel is to be found in Cornwall, with invading forces pushing Britons back, Wales was a very likely location for Arthur and his people. Hollick also uses characters who were known to exist, like Vortigern who supposedly ruled Britons for some time and was purportedly the one to invite Germanic forces from the mainland to defend the Britons against the Scotti and Picts. There are Hengest and Horsa, the ruthless Saxon Brothers, Hengest's daughter Rowena, as well as some of Vortigern's own offspring - Vortimer, Catigern, and his daughter Winifred.
ollick writes of a world and life that is becoming somewhat familiar, with the growing genre of medieval historical fiction, joining other epic novels like
Pillars of the Earth
World Without End
Cathedral of the Sea
. These are not the romanticized and glamorous characters of Chrétien de Troyes, Malory's
Le Morte d'Arthur
, or the famous musical
. It is a cold, harsh world, where much blood is shed and many die. Hollick does a wonderful job of balancing her narrative with the different characters, not just keeping it to one person as is common in other Arthurian sagas. She also maintains historical accuracy, using the tools and skills that existed in the world of the fifth century, and yet making
a fast-paced, action-packed start to one of the best Arthurian series written.
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