Monday, November 2, 2009
Pendragon's Banner by Helen Hollick (R)
Set from 459 to 466, Pendragon's Banner is the second book in Helen Hollick's Pendragon's Banner Triology. It tells the story of Arthur of Britain, who fought, conquered enemies and brought peace to England. It also tells of the love between Arthur and his wife, Gwenhwyfar, better known to most readers as Guinevere.
A king's life was one of war, of alliances and betrayals. There were few families of royalty, and the balance of power between them and the desire for more power fuels much of the action in this book. Arthur had many enemies, men who wanted the kingdom he had carved out. Some of these included Lot, husband of Morgause, Arthur's stepmother; Hueil, a Northern ruler who attempted to defeat Arthur and even his own uncle, who persuaded Arthur's council to split the kingdom.
Arthur had other enemies. Morgause was a sworn enemy and cursed him that she would see all his sons dead. Winifred was his first wife, put aside when he met Gwenhwyfar, and resentful of that, wanting to force Arthur to acknowledge her son and willing to join with his enemies to accomplish her goals. There were other women also, slaves he took, women he had affairs with and the Lady of the Lake, who bore him another son. Women's lives were hard; their children lucky to survive to adulthood. There were many ways to lose a child, war, accidents, illnesses, plots. Children were pawns in the power plays of the powerful, and as they grew, they learned to desire and scheme to gain power for themselves.
Hollick has created a realistic tale of this ancient history and this mythological man. Arthur is shown as a warrior first and foremost, quick to go to battle, to defend what was his or claim more. He is shown as a man greatly in love with his wife. But Hollick also shows the dark side of Arthur. That love did not prevent him from having other women. Reflecting the violence of his time, slaves were treated as chattel. Those who lost battles were maimed or blinded, or simply killed. In one gruesome episode, Arthur has Lot and Morgause's daughter killed after Lot's defeat, to eliminate her as a problem in the future.
Readers of historical fiction will enjoy Hollick's tale and be eager to read the other books in her triology. Arthur Pendragon's reputation has survived for centuries, and a glimpse into what life must have been like in his court is fascinating. This book is recommended for historical fiction readers as well as those interested in a complex tale of power, corruption, love and war.