Yet another fanciful fricassee of the Arthurian legends, this one--the first in a trilogy--with a sizzle of muscular action and romance. With a storytelling gusto and fearless anachronistic invention reminiscent of Jean Auel's cave novels, newcomer Hollick retells the story of Arthur Pendragon. It is the ""Lion King"" Cunedda, father of Gwenhwyfar (that's our old familiar ""Guinevere"" under that carpet of consonants), who declares young Arthur to be the true son and heir of the dead Uthr, thus the rightful king of Britain. Cunedda (a real person, but not the father of the legend's Guinevere) lost his northern lands to Vortigern, the man who slew Uthr and claimed kingship, but Cunedda urges Arthur to offer military service to Vortigern to gain experience and time before his own ascension. Arthur weds a daughter of Vortigern also to gain time--and a dowry--although Gwenhwyfar was pledged to him. Arthur and Gwenhwyfar are parted and quarrel from site to site. Gwenhwyfar--a demon with a dagger and a mean warrior woman--aids in rescuing Arthur from a horrid death and dispatches a raping husband-to-be. Hatreds steam: Arthur's wife posts poison to Gwenhwyfar; Morgause (former mistress to Uthr) plots nastiness; and Arthur calmly sets about hanging wife and mother-in-law (though the ladies escape). Here, Arthur is a tough, pragmatic soldier quite unlike the saintly icon of myth. Guinevere is a female version of same. Also among Hollick's many departures from the old tales: Gwenhwyfar bears a son, and the sword Excalibur is wrested from a Saxon rather than a stone (in her amusing concluding notes, the author credits some etymological research). Hearty entertainment by a first novelist who may yet make a stir in the sacred halls of fictional Camelot.