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.