The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick
The problem with any new book about Arthur
is to determine where history leaves off and legend and mystery begin. A vast storyline
exists, created in waves as each new generation discovered Arthur's realm and took
it for their own. Hollick has crafted a book that is full of character, a blend of
balanced characters and story plot. The young Arthur is a warrior of the mid fifth
century, welded into the framework of Vortigern's Britain. The history is closer
in association with Geoffrey Ashe's Riothamus, a strong ruler of the British
midlands or Brittany of the mid fifth to early sixth century, than with Malory's.
Most of the standard cast of characters are here. However, the incongruities
of her history in relation to the roles molded by legend occasionally leave the reader
struggling to block out Malory and works of those influenced by him. An author can choose
to keep the framework expected by the readers or recreate it anew thrusting the reader
into new but familiar surroundings. Hollick seems to have taken a middle road. I found
her decision to make Guinevere Cunedda's daughter a distraction that kept me on guard.
Cunedda's role in the story and her use of London as a constant backdrop to
Vortigern's reign is inconsistent with historical fact. And like most readers, her
decisions of what to keep from the legends and what to remove left me guessing rather
than simply enjoying the story. In her notes, she explains some of the reasons for this
and other historical placement but they are more apology than justification.
My sons tell me that I nitpick a story to death. As a longtime student of
the Dark Ages, I have my own views and beliefs that Hollick ran contrary to. But, there
were many facets of her story that I loved. Her characters are rich and human and the
plot woven smoothly. I believe that I enjoyed her minor characters more than the major.
Her Arthur is too human and carelessly flawed to have become the legend. Vortigern would
have disposed of him without a second thought. But some of the minor plots and characters
created a depth and texture that shows Hollick to be a great story teller. I was intrigued
by Osmail and believe that Hollick could have taken this man and crafted an excellent
Arthurian or post Roman story.
As an avid reader of Arthurian material, I recommend "The Kingmaking" to the
newcomer or romantic. For the pseudo-historian and Arthurian readers, it is a
read-when-time-permits, not a must-read.