By Helen Hollick
No Merlin, no magic, and no round table. Just swords, fighting, and death. The Kingmaking is one of the most interesting re-tellings of the Arthurian story I’ve read in years.
We meet Arthur and Gwenhwyfar as children when Arthur accompanies Uthr Pendragon to Gwenhwyfar’s homeland. Uthr, who has been in exile, comes as war host to fight and attempt to overthrow Vortigern, the current king. When Uthr is killed in the battle, Arthur is finally told that he is Uthr’s heir. He is left to carry the Pendragon mantel at a young age, untrained for the role but fully aware of what it means. Gwenhwyfar, knowing she belongs with Arthur, pledges her life to him.
Arthur returns home and, to keep peace and build his reputation and forces, he promises his sword to Vortigern. Arthur is not one to be told what to do and constantly disagrees with orders from the king. He is aware of what is expected of him and what others think of his being the Pendragon’s heir, but he harbors the need to unite the British and expel the Saxons and is willing to do what he thinks it will take to make that happen. He bides his time but seethes planning to one day overthrow the king.
As with most Arthurian tales, there’s a huge list of characters. Numerous war lords and Saxons to keep track of and all of their plots and in-fighting to go along with it. The fighting is constant and the living difficult. Treatment of women is despicable and I needed to remind myself several times of the time period and that women were treated at possessions to be bought, sold, and used as peace offerings.
Gwenhwyfar stands out in this telling not only as a lady but a warrior but even she is treated as mere cattle at times. I do adore the scenes where she fights though. Let’s just say she gives no second thought to stabbing a man in the heart when necessary
Arthur isn’t the kind, gentle man he is in some stories. He makes quick and sometimes bad decisions, acts before he thinks, and things don’t always work out for him. He’s brutal and can at times be mean and callus — especially where his first wife, Winifred, is concerned, although in her case it’s warranted — and a womanizer. There are times when you wish he would keep his pants on. All this and I still found him to be an appealing character and I liked that he didn’t live a blessed life. He spent his life fighting and it shows.
I liked that there was no magic here. It’s usually a large part of most Arthurian legends and while you’ll find most of the same characters and general story line here, it somehow feels more appealing. I thought it was a great read and it’s a fabulous addition to my Arthurian collection. I received this book, and the second installment, Pendragon’s Banner, as gifts and already bought the third. I plan to have no interruptions in my reading of this series. If you’re a fan of Arthurian legend, this one is worth picking up.