Review: The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick

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.
Helen Hollick's novels have been on my wishlist since my obsession with historical fiction began. Until now, I haven't had any luck getting my hands on one, but that was before Sourcebooks Publishing came along and started re-publishing some excellent historical novels, including the Arthur Pendragon series.

Hollick's Arthur is not the usual halo-crowned, knight in shining armour. No rose-colored version here! He has flaws, fears, a roving eye and is stubborn as a mule! But, he has the heart, strength, cunning and courage necessary to excel as King. And you can't help but have a little crush on him!

Gwenhwyfar (or Gwen as I called her throughout the novel for sanity purposes - I just could not figure out how to pronounce!) is a girl after my own heart. A tomboy all the way - she is also strong-willed, tenacious and intelligent.

Arthur and Gwen are first bonded through a mutual suffering of abuse at the hands of evil, female caretakers. Both have a chance to save each other from these witches! Arthur & Gwen were a joy to read, these two have some great exchanges of words and make quite a pair!

The Kingmaking has everything without having too much. I much prefer this "real" Arthur to the "fairy tale" Arthur. What I like about historical fiction is that the people you read about were actually living, breathing human beings and that makes it so much easier to relate to their shortcomings or concerns or emotions. The Kingmaking was a fabulous novel, hard to put down and now on my list of all-time favorites! Helen Hollick's writing is fantastic and I am very much looking forward to reading the next two in the series!

Sourcebooks is releasing the other two in the Arthur Pendragon series...

Pendragon’s Banner (book #2): released September 1, 2009
Shadow of the King (book #3): released March 1, 2010

Helen Hollick's Web Journal.

Oh, I found this cute-as-hell photo while looking for images for the review and I just had to post it for you all! Isn't that hysterical?!? Some guinea pig owner has too much time on their hands!

*Please note, Passages to the Past will be posting an interview with Helen Hollick on March 2nd!


  1. Very cute picture! I enjoyed this book, although I don't think there was a real Arthur at all - he's just a literary tradition. If he was around in the 5th century, though, I think Hollick did a pretty good job. My review's coming up this week!

  2. That picture is adorable! Hmm, the book sounds interesting, have you read any of Jack Whyte's Camulod series, which is another version of the Arthurian legend without the magic? I started it, but never read past the 2nd book.

  3. Glad to hear that this was a good one. I had my eye on it to review but I just didn't have the time for another long one in addition to a couple of other long books I am in the midst of reading right now. I will have to pick this one up.

  4. ugh. I really want to read this, but I just can't get my mind around books of this type lately! I hope my mood changes soon so I can read it!

  5. I love the photo. It is hilarious, I still cannot stop laughing.
    I loved 'The Kingmaking' as well. I am waiting impatiently for part two.

  6. This has been at the top my wish list for a while. I'm so glad to know that it's worth reading. I like the Arthur lore -- real or not, I don't really care; I like the myth.

  7. Great review! I read The Kingmaking way back when it was first released in the UK, and liked it then. I'm very pleased to see it back in print.

  8. I really enjoyed this one as well. Great review!

  9. I just started reading this far, I really like it. Can't believe I've never read her works in the past....I guess I've been slacking.

    Great review, Amy! I loved it!

  10. Great review Amy. I just reviewed this one today. I can't wait to read the other two.

  11. I liked Hollick’s depiction of Arthur: much more real-to-life than the traditional legend. I felt the author did a good job of blending history with myth, and creating an accurate picture of post-Roman Britain.

    Arthur definitely had moments where you disliked him, among his other good qualities. Gwenhwyfar was the same way. There were times where I questioned her, but overall, she was more like-able than Arthur.

    What did you think of the antagonist characters? Did you think they were well-rounded and complex? What did you think of Winifred? Did she have any redeeming qualities in your mind?

    Also, now that I think about it, I would have liked to see Morgause as a more regularly character throughout the novel. What do you think? I thought she was an interesting, conflicting character.

  12. This is on my TBR pile too, can't wait to get my hands on a copy.


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