By Helen Hollick
Pendragon’s Banner is the second book in the Pendragon’s Banner series following The Kingmaking. You can read my review of The Kingmaking here.
Arthur, Arthur how I do adore thee. Yes, you’re an arrogant, self-centered, whoring barbarian at times but somehow none of that matters. I’ve come to expect you to be this way.
In book two of this series, Arthur has taken up the mantel of King, Gwenhwyfar has given him sons to carry on the Pendragon title, but he still refuses to settle down preferring to fight knowing the minute he stops it might be the end of him and his reign. When the tragic death of their youngest son pushes Arthur and Gwenhwyfar apart, he finally comes to the realization that being Supreme King may not mean anything without his wife and family. Tragedy and heartache follow both Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, political problems arise and fester, and Arthur is constantly watching his back afraid one his own may try to take his kingdom from him. Even after settling down in the beloved Summer Land, Arthur still fights — with his wife, for his kingdom, and his own worries and fears about what he is doing to lead his people.
While the relationship between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar is tempestuous, I like it. She’s a match for him in strength, anger, love, and stubbornness. While there is much to love about Gwenhywfar, there is much to hate in two other women Arthur can’t seem to extricate himself from — his ex-wife Winifred who still calls herself the Pendragon’s wife, and Morgause, his father’s ex-lover and his aunt. Both women cause so much pain and destruction wherever they go. They are so annoying yet so riveting.
I liked the liberties Hollick took with this story, and while it’s more realistic, I also enjoyed the small throw backs to some of the original more fantasy oriented tales. For instance, at one meeting of the Council, Arthur mentally notes how he dislikes the Roman bleacher type seating arrangement for the meeting and makes an internal comment about building a round table so he doesn’t have to turn around to see who is speaking. His sword, while not named Excalibur, has a long Saxon name and a lovely legend to go with it as well.
As I said, Arthur can be a dolt of a man, especially with his own wife. He can’t ever seem to find the words I love you or I’m sorry. He’d rather show anger than fear and while I don’t like admitting it, I couldn’t get enough is his debauched ways. He’s not overly kind or gentle but after meeting this Arthur, I don’t know if I want the old version back.
This series is fast becoming my favorite Arthurian re-telling.