Friday, January 29, 2010

Review: Pendragon's Banner by Helen Hollick

Pendragon's Banner: Book Two of the Pendragon's Banner TrilogyFrom the Back Cover:

"Morgause had set these dark thoughts of foreboding, she with her high laugh and gloating eyes, Morgause who delighted in nurturing the belief of her witchcraft. "If you come after me, Pendragon, none of your sons shall live..."

Three years have passed since the mists cleared to reveal the Pendragon Banner triumphant. Arthur is king. But the crown, once won, must be defended.

He is a man about whom legends will be told. With his loyal and fiercely valiant wife Gwenhwyfar by his side, and three sons to his name, twenty-four-year-old King Arthur takes on the burden of a country battling for its very soul.

But before the harpers sing of glory, before the tales of brave daring and skill, a young man must win his place as the greatest warrior of all Britain...and the greatest king of all time.

Though it got off to a rocky start, the second book in the Pendragon Trilogy did not disappoint! I was extremely impressed to discover that The Kingmaking was Helen Hollick's first novel. The writing, storyline and characters were superb. I loved it. So when this one started off a little awkwardly, I was upset. The narrative was clunky, the dialogue a little stilted - it just seemed to be missing that magic that captivated me in the first book. Fortunately, that feeling only lasted about thirty pages and then the author hit her stride and the book took off from there.

Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, who overcame so much to be together, are having a difficult time of it. They've spent three years leading his army all over the country, squashing small rebellions, forging alliances and reminding the people of Britain that Arthur is their supreme king. But Gwen longs for a home of her own, a safe haven in which to raise her family, and a husband who is as devoted to them as he is to ruling the country. Gwen's unhappiness and Arthur's unwillingness to compromise cause a rift to grow between them and a terrible tragedy ultimately separates them.

Both of these characters undergo growth and transformation, but particularly Arthur, and I came to care about him so much more through the course of this book. Arthur is a man who can put his emotions aside when it comes to making ruthless decisions about war and leading a kingdom, but at his heart he is very much still like that lost little boy he was when we first met him. That theme comes to the forefront of this story as he is forced to face Morgause, his father's mistress who abused Arthur as a boy, and who, in her new position of power, is determined to make him suffer as a man. And Arthur still has his evil ex-wife, Winifred to deal with as well, along with several plotting warlords who refuse to accept him as their rightful king. Now more than ever, he needs the one person he has always loved and trusted. But can they overcome their differences, the hurt they've caused each other, the fears and misgivings, to love again and unite in the face of their enemies?

This book zips along at a breakneck pace; there are some gripping battle scenes, tender love scenes, death, sadness, tears and laughter all culminating in a very satisfying ending that had me turning the last page and sighing, "Wow! What a book!"

Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars

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