Shadow of the King
By Helen Hollick
Veni, vidi, vici. I came, I saw, I conquered. Helen Hollick’s Pendragon’s Banner series is one of, if not the best, Arthurian re-tellings that I have read so far. She takes a well-known story and makes it fresh and exciting.
Picking up where Pendragon’s Banner left off, Arthur has brought peace to Britain but has been talked into going to Gaul to protect interests that are not his own. While there, word reaches him that Gwenhwyfar has become sick and he believes her to be dead. He falls into a deep depression and wonders why he ever let himself be talked into leaving his home. He throws himself into the battle wishing to die and all but succeeds. Morgaine, a healer once known as the Lady of the Lake and, unbeknownst to Arthur, the mother of one of his sons, offers to stay behind and bury him while the others try to outrun the approaching enemy. What Morgaine knows that the others don’t is that Arthur is still alive. She nurses him back to health and, knowing he has nothing left to return to, he stays in Gaul living unhappily without his wife or kingdom.
Gwenhwyfar, who survived her illness, now lives a life almost a mirror image to Arthur’s sad existence. When others convince her that she must re-marry to protect what is left of Arthur’s kingdom and herself, she stalls and has trouble getting over the feeling that Arthur isn’t dead. When a man tracks her down to tell her that Arthur lives, she leaves everything to find him. Unfortunately, when Gwenhwyfar finds him, he’s not the Arthur she knew and he tells her that he won’t be returning. Heartbroken, she decides she needs to live even if he will not and leaves. When circumstances convince Arthur he needs his life back, he finds Gwenhwyfar and they both begin to recover from the emotional wounds of their separation. They return home to find one more fight that needs to be fought. When his son by his ex-wife Winifred makes a move to take over his kingdom, Arthur overcomes his fear and leads his men to defeat, but not destroy, his son leaving the door open for a final battle that everyone knows will bring about an end to a world they all know.
I was truly sad to see this series end. While Arthur is tempered in book three, he’s still that brooding man I fell for in the previous two books. Gwenhwyfar becomes the strong one and a great ruler in her own right. Hollick takes the tale of Arthur and moves it to epic proportions of a different nature. Yes, some of the same faces appear in this story as in others but it has a new feel to it and one I couldn’t get enough of.
If you like historical fiction and especially Arthurian legend, Hollick’s trilogy is not to be missed.