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4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 16 March 2001
Don't read this book (or any of the trilogy) expecting a tale of mystery, magic and Merlin. Rather a historian's view of what the real Arthur and Britain in the post-Roman, pre-Saxon age might have been like. This is a time when Rome has deserted the British and the English are only just arriving from 'Germany' bringing with them upheaval and a constant struggle for power. A time when 1000 soldiers is considered a major force and tribal and ethnic loyalties are constantly shifting. As in real life many people are looking to the past and the glory of Rome while others want to look to the future. Not as clear a distinction as it sounds. Dirt, death, tragedy and a nicely dispassionate view of life and death keeps the books rocking along even though they are quite substantial. I did manage to put it down but it did certainly keep me popping back as often as possible.
If I did have one criticism it was that Guinevere (spelt in the more realistic Welsh fashion in this book) was possibly a little bit more of a modern feminist action hero than I feel reasonable. But then again what is a novel without a challenging interpretation of life and love.
I found it very interesting that the origin of the sword from the stone could be because the Latin for 'out of a stone' (ex saxo) is similar to 'from a Saxon' (ex saxone). Sounds reasonable!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 November 2008
The Kingmaking begins in post Roman Britain as the exiled Uthr Pendragon lands in Gwynedd, Wales to join Cunedda in an attempt to overthrow Vortigern and drive the Saxons out of Britain. The battle does not go well, and fifteen year old Arthur is revealed as Uthr's son and heir. Too young and inexperienced to make his claim, Arthur eventually throws in his lot with Vortigern as he learns the arts of war and builds his own army and cavalry. Arthur is in love with the Prince of Gwynedd's daughter Gwenhwyfar, but she is promised to another and he marries Vortigern's delightfully wicked daughter Winifred for her dowry. As Vortigern's pact for peace with the Saxons fails due to treachery, Arthur's time has come to defeat the Saxon Hengest and claim the crown of Britain with Gwenhwyfar as his queen.

Although you'll find pretty much the usual characters as you do in other books on the Arthurian legend, what sets this one apart is Hollick's take -- no knights in shining armour, no Merlin and his magic, no Lancelot -- this is a gritty down to earth version as the author envisions Arthur. Even whilst still young and with a young boy's ideals, Arthur is far from being pure as the driven snow. He drinks, he wenches and when he does lead his army into battle he is a fearsome and ruthless warrior. Winifred and her equally wicked mother schemes both together and behind each other's backs in bids for power were priceless, as well as Winifred's constant plots to get herself back into Arthur's bed, and keep Gwenhwyfar out of it. Gwenhwyfar was nicely portrayed as a young girl growing up a bit of a tomboy in Gwynedd, and while I enjoyed her portrayal as a strong woman there were times she was just a tad bit too independent and feminist.

If you're looking for another glorified, romantic version of Arthur with honorable knights, magic and ladies in constant peril waiting for her knight to rescue her then this series is not for you. However, if you're looking for something more down to earth and realistic you might want to give this a whirl - just be warned the battle scenes are brutal and bloody. Interesting side note, apparently Sharon Kay Penman was a friend and/or mentor of Hollick and the book is dedicated to her. I found Hollick's style and sentence structure to be very similar to Penman's earlier work, The Sunne In Splendour, it's a bit different and does take getting used to. Out of print (and some versions quite spendy), but being republished in early 2009. Next up in the series, Pendragon's Banner (Pendragon's Banner Trilogy). 4.5/5 stars.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 17 September 2007
Helen Hollick was born 1953 in Walthamstow, North East London. When she came of age to seek employment she had always yearned to be a journalist, but her careers advice was unhelpful. You can't be a journalist she was told, you can't type. Instead she ended up working in a library. The one advantage of working there was that she had access to lots of books. By the time she was married with a young daughter she found she had time to begin writing herself and began to put down on paper her own thoughts of Arthurian Britain.

In her own words the author stated that she made a conscious decision to leave Merlin and Lancelot out of the books. There was to be no magic or myths in the book. What she did not know was that her writings on the subject would not just fill one book, but three.

Personally I found the book very refreshing and forward looking, if that can be said about a book that covers a period of time well over a thousand years ago. It coincided closely with my own feelings on what the Arthurian period may have been like. The book was certainly a million miles away from the Hollywood image of the period. Showing `knights' in full plate tournament armour. Something that was not invented for another several hundred years after the period that Arthur, or someone like him may have lived.
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on 20 April 2001
By far the best version of the Arthur legend I have read so far - and I've read a few! Helen Hollick combines fact with fiction to create a very real and credible Arthur. Her trilogy is packed with suspense, passion and pathos and is totally addictive! I defy anyone who does not fall in love with at least one of her beautifully developped and fully rounded characters, be it with her headstrong Gwenhwyfar or with her rugged Arthur.
Unlike most contemporary Arthurian novels, Helen omits the characters of Lancelot and Merlin, and rationalises the magical elements of the legend, one would think to the disappointment of the reader. Without a shadow of a doubt however, poor Merlin and Lancelot were not missed by me in the slightest, despite my being a lover of all these magical and romantic elements in previous novels. 'The Kingmaking', 'Pendragon's Banner' and 'Shadow Of The King' are all absolute 'musts' for anyone who enjoys a damn good read, and the sooner a film maker puts them on the big screen, the better!
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This novel,the first in a trilogy recommended and endorsed by Sharon Penman, an historical novelist of undisputable quality and literary experience, is by an author who shows the same intrinsic values although the subject matter is so different. Helen Hollick has taken legend and given it the "reality" treatment. As Sharon has done with so many real historical figures, Helen has brought flesh, blood, and bone to the names of legend (and some genuine figures from history as well)who may well have lived, but have no chronicled proof of existence - Arthur, Gwenhwyfar ( I love that she has used the correct form of the name) etc.
The early chapters are set in the town where I grew up, which Helen calls Caer Arfon, which became Caer yn Arfon and is now known as Caernarfon. Her knowledge of the area shines.
Sharon's endorsement speaks for itself, so suffice to say, this is a must for any King Arthur fan, telling the story without the "magic" as an account of the rise of a leader of men in a down to earth manner that is easy to relate to. Brilliant.
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on 23 May 2013
From the very first page I was hooked! I loved this book, the first of a trilogy. I'm a great fan of Arthurian Legends in general, but Helen Hollick brings such realism to her story. It is immaculately researched and far from the more usual romanticised approach. Her characters both good and bad are well fleshed out and real. Arthur himself, a ten year old boy at the very beginning of the book, is no romantic hero. He is a completely believable and flawed human being. A likeable boy, brave astute and loyal... he becomes as an adult, a bold and fearless warrior though no angel in his private life. Gwenhwyfar is no gentle female either, rather she is spirited and brave. As both child and woman she is an extremely attractive, strong and interesting character. In the past I have read various interpretations of Arthurian Britain, complete with magic and of course Merlin. You won't find those elements in this book which has a very different original approach to the legends. The battles are again truly realistic and Helen has no hesitation in describing their brutality. She ranks for me, among the very top rated historical writers of our time. I recommend it highly. Just a thought but if any prospective buyer goes over to Amazon.com to read the reviews on there, be prepared for some negativity, which is fair enough in the sense that we all have the right to our personal opinions. However, when it comes to a verbal crucifixion of a young author just beginning her career from a reader who has posted a long and sarcastic review, which stands out like a sore thumb amongst the very many mainly 5 star reviews which applaud Helen's work and is full of inconsistencies anyway, I beg you to please be objective and read for yourself first.
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on 21 August 2000
The Arthur and Guinevere of the fairy-tale legend is firmly buried in the past, the moment you pick up Book One of this brilliant trilogy. This tale is packed full of historical earthiness and truly transports the reader back to those early years of Britain, when life was not full of gallant knights and pretty castles, but a harsh world where the British-born struggled against the invaders of the isle, the Saxons, Jutes and Angli, not forgetting the hostile North lands thrown in for good measure. The "Gwenyhfar" and "Arthur" of this tale are solid and believable - the reader cannot help but get caught in these shadowy times and catch a historical glimpse of this dark, far-away age. The characters spring to life through the pages, creating an exciting identity of their own whilst their lives are gradually mapped out through the chapters. There are no love-lorn Lancelots, no gushing Guineveres or awful Arthurs, here you can believe in an age-old legend to the extent that the myths fade, and the real history is like The Kingmaking...yours for the taking.
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on 26 July 2013
Spell-binding, magnificent, gutsy, heartbreaking, raw with bloodshed, triumphant! Helen Hollick's Arthurian trilogy quickly draws you into the world of legend. No genteel fairytale story of Camelot, this! Gutsy, sweaty, and real. The Dark Ages brought vividly, to life! This is the legend I want to believe in. Yes it is cruel in places, but they were cruel times. I want to read about them, but I'm glad not to have lived through them. Still, I feel as though, for a while, I was there - and it was breath-taking!
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on 29 August 2000
I am an avid collector of Arthurian fiction and Helen Hollick's Pendragon's Banner trilogy is one of the best fictional accounts of Arthur in Roman times that I have ever read. Her storytelling and characters are first-rate. Helen Hollick's Pendragon's Banner trilogy is comparable to Bradley's Mists of Avalon , Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset, and Stewart's Merlin trilogy. I highly recommend all the books in the trilogy- The Kingmaking, Pendragon's Banner, and The Shadow of the King. Read these books and you won't be sorry!
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on 7 June 2016
Loved it. Hated to leave it.

I am a fan of the genre but not of the medieval romance stories. This was a much more down to earth, believable telling. Arthur a flawed but determined leader of men with little patience with politics and the much maligned Gwenhwyfar as a loving wife and mother.
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