Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pendragon's banner

Helen Hollick's Pendragon's Banner is the second in a trilogy of books about King Arthur. Typically tales of King Arthur have some element of fantasy, like the Lady in the Lake or the magic of Merlin. These books though are written as historical fiction, so you will find none of that here. Instead, it is gritty portrayal of Britain in the chaotic fifth century.

Rome has left the island, although its influence, mostly cultural, remains. Although Arthur is King, his is no united kingdom. He is a Briton, one of the original pagan peoples of the island. His people are threatened by a tide of Germanic invaders. A canny politician as well as warrior, Arthur plays the various factions off one another, while he watches his back.

His greatest foe is Morgause, who harbors thoughts of revenge against Arthur. She comes closest to being a magician, although it is via seduction not spells. Her quest for vengeance shatters Arthur and Gwenhwyfar and makes the story often quite dark.

The grimness of the battle between Morgause and Arthur is matched by the grim reality of much of the book. This isn't the pomp and splendor of the traditional, medieval-based Arthurian stories. Instead it is the brutal time when an invading army might appear on your doorstep, kill you and take your children. Your enemies sought to poison and kill you whenever possible.

Arthur is as complex as the times. He is not chivalrous or noble, but a scheming politician of more than dubious morality. He loves his wife, but he also finds time for his mistresses. He plots wickedly and is willing to kill his opponents children if it is politically the thing to do. This feels correct, given the times, but it may be hard for some readers, especially fans of chivalric legend.

1 comment:

Helen Hollick said...

thank you for the great review and your support for Pendragon's Banner