"Camelot is less a romantic kingdom than a lusty and fragmented realm in this spirited retelling of Arthurian legend, the second novel in Hollick's projected
trilogy (The Kingmaking
). Over the years, Arthur Pendragon and Gwenhwyfar have accumulated a vast array of estranged relatives, rivals and half-mad adversaries. Among the most
formidable of their enemies are Winifred, Arthur's embittered ex-wife, who's plotting to ensconce her son Cerdic as heir to the throne, and Morgause, a manipulative priestess who
wants to consolidate her power in the north to become queen of the realm. Hollick manipulates a large cast of characters with a deft hand. She is most successful in depicting Arthur
and Gwenhwyfar not as a newly married couple but as parents who grieve as their three sons are endangered by many calamities.
In an author's note, Hollick writes: "Arthur Pendragon, to those people who study him, is a very personal and passionately viewed character. We all have our own ideas, insist ours
is the correct one, and argue like mad with anyone who disagrees!"
With an exhausted grunt of effort Arthur, the Pendragon, raised his sword and with a deep intake of breath, brought it down through the full force of weight and momentum into the skull of an Anglian thegn. Another battle. Arthur was four and twenty years of age, had been proclaimed Supreme King over Greater and Less Britain three years past by the army of the British - and had been fighting to keep the royal torque secure around his neck ever since.
The man crumpled, instantly dead. Arthur wrenched his blade from shattered bone and tissue with a sucking squelch, a sickening sound, one he would never grow used to. Oh, the harpers told of
the glories of battle, the victory, the brave daring skill - but they never told of the stench that assaulted your nostrils, bringing choking vomit to your throat. Nor of the screams that
scalded your ears, nor the blood that clung foul and sticky and slippery hands and fingers, or spattered face and clothing.
He turned, anxious, aware that a cavalryman was vulnerable on the ground. His stallion was somewhere to the left, a hindleg injured. The horses. Hah! No harper, no matter how skilled, could
ever describe the sound of a horse screaming its death in agony. There was no glory in battle, only the great relief that you were still alive when it was all over.
Sword ready to strike again, Arthur found with a jolt of surprise there was no one before him, no one to fight. Eyebrows raised, breathless, he watched the final scenes of fighting with the dispassionate indifference of an uninvolved spectator. No more slopping and wading through these muddied, sucking water-meadows; the Angli were finished, beaten. The rebellion, this snatching of British land that was not theirs for the taking,
The Anglian leader, Icel, had wanted to be more than a petty chieftain over a scatter of huddled, backwater settlements, and that wanting had plunged deep - deep enough for him to unite the English war bands.
Fighting against the British had been sporadic at first, skirmishes, night raids and isolated killings. Arthur had not been King then, when Icel began making a nuisance of himself, but when the Pendragon bested Hengest the Saxon, away down to the south of Londinium, the army of Britain had acclaimed him as Supreme. And Icel sent word across the sea for his kinsmen to come with the next spring, to come and fight this new-made King of the British who rode at the head of an elite cavalry force; to come and fight, for surely the victory over such a warlord would be worth the winning! The damn thing had grumbled on through the roll of seasons ever since.
"Pendragon's Banner" by Helen Hollick
"Hollick's interpretation is bold, affecting and well worth fighting to defend."
Publishers Weekly, November 11 1996
"Helen Hollick has once again shown why
publishers Heinemann were so keen to sign her up. This is the second
of her Arthurian trilogy and is another excellent read.
This time Arthur, now king of Britain, has to
fight off a number of dangerous threats to his crown - from his
first wife Winifred, Morgause, Queen of the North, and an ever
increasingly powerful Christian church.
The writing style is simple, yet effective, cleverly capturing the feel of such far away days. Helen has not only relied on legend to create her stories, but has spent 11 years researching the history of her chosen time - and it shows. A magic read from an inspired new writer."
"Arthur's legend lives on. Anyone who enjoys a good historical yarn will be well satisfied with Pendragon's Banner by Helen
Hollick. The tale begins with Arthur, at just 23, King of Britain. But tragedy strikes when Gwenhwyfar finds herself in perilous disharmony with Arthur."
Western Morning News
- Plymouth, 2 Aug 1996