The Kingmaking

by by Helen Hollick

Reviewed by Coral

Britain is in trouble. King Vortigern is inviting more and more Saxons to take up land in Britain and not doing enough to protect his people against the ones that have turned violent. Worse, he has married a Saxon woman. The lords Cunedda and Uthr rise against him, more than once, they are soundly defeated. And their defeat carries a high price.

With Uthr dead and Cunedda bound to peace and Vortigern - by his word, all hope seems lost. But then Cunedda reveals that the bastard boy being cared for by Uthr's brother, Ectha, is no bastard at all. He is Arthur, son of Uthr and his wife Ygrainne and heir to the Pendragon lands. But Arthur is a young boy, who needs time to learn the arts of war and win an army willing to fight for him. Now that Vortigern has learned of Arthur's existence, it may be time that Arthur does not have.

I love the Arthurian legend. I read and watch almost anything associated to it. But this is one series of books I will not be continuing on with.

The main problem is that I had no sympathy and/or empathy for Arthur as a character. The beginning of the story started out promising enough, showing us glimpses of the rough childhood he had to endure as a bastard under Uthr's mistress Morgause. There was even a (badly written, I think) near rape scene, where Arthur is saved from Morgause just in time. But, though the author uses his poor childhood as an excuse, to me there is nothing that can excuse his behaviour. I cannot cheer for a hero who raped at least two women (and maybe the author didn't intend for them to be rape, but it sure read like that to me). Society at that time may dismiss his actions because one woman was a slave and the other was his wife, but I can't. There's even a scene where he is very close to raping another women - he is leading her away from her husband, with his intentions pretty clear while the woman is not interested, where he is stopped only by his foster brother Cei. And yet the woman ends up falling for Arthur and her husband ends up a loyal soldier for him.

Lesser faults of the book include the predictable evolution of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar from not liking each other to soulmates, the lack of any ambiguity in the villains - I like stories with more shades of gray than outright good and outright bad - and the fact that Arthur still sleeps with other women while Gwenhwyfar is missing at one point.

Grade: F