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The Sons of Godwine: Part Two of The Last Great Saxon Earls Kindle Edition
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Godwine was the founder of a house in Anglo-Saxon England. Perhaps the most famous member of the family was his son, Harold, who in 1066 A.D. was barely defeated by William the Conquerer. The Anglo-Saxon loss to the Normans changed the course of history for both England and the world.
The first book in the series, Godwine Kingmaker, followed Godwine from when he was a child to become one of the most powerful men in England. Sons of Godwine continues the story of the family past Godwine's death toward the fatal battle at Hastings.
Harold, appropriately, is one of the most important voices. He comes across as a natural leader of men: charismatic, clever, and strong. As with all of us, however, he did not live in a vacuum. He had family, friends, and enemies. In this book, we see the bonds and tensions common to all families. This is especially the case with Tostig, who has ambitions of his own and, as we find out, is envious of his brother. The voices of other family members, such as lesser-known brothers Leofwine and Gyrth, are also heard.
Capturing a character’s voice is one of the difficult jobs of a writer. When a character tells the story in his own words (first person), the voice must be consistent throughout, the events must be only what the character himself observes, and be unique so that, as when hearing a friend, the identity is instantly recognizable.
Rochelle has taken pains to differentiate the characters, from Harold’s strength to Tostig’s growing dissatisfaction with his brother. She does so not with melodramatic flourishes, but with subtle phrasings and the events that each character tells about. One good example is when Tostig, who is desperate to show he is in charge of his earldom, orders the hands of a group of brigands to be cut off. Is this the best option to show his authority? He thinks so. Other members of the family may have reservations.
And there is this comment from Tostig:
“I would guess the high point of Harold's early career came when he conducted his Welsh campaign against Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. It was an altogether different kind of offensive: fighting against wild men who didn't understand the first thing about real warfare. Harold would have had a difficult time of it, if I wasn't there to help him.”
As always, Rochelle captures authentic history,. She shows how politics works in a time where violence, murder, and warfare are all acceptable tools for advancement. Where “natural rights” are nonexistent and entire communities can be killed for little or no reason. Where cruelty is common and accepted.
After one of his victories, Harold orders the enemy dead to be remembered by mutilating their bodies and “the men became accustomed to chopping off Welsh heads, and even made a gruesome game of it, tossing those trophies to each other rather than walking them over to the pile.”
Experiences of love and tenderness, such as many of us have known, also exist in this world. Times such as when you spend the night with a woman you love and “dawn came too quickly.” Or upon separation and one’s face shows “such a strange look” of love and pain.
And speaking of history…
One of the great unresolved questions of history is whether Harold or William had the best claim to the kingship of England. A related question concerns what was in an oath made by Harold on a trip to Normandy. Did he agree to support William?
Rochelle provides plausible answers to these questions, which I will not reveal here. The reader can form his own conclusion, as history continues its inevitable way in this continuing series.
Within the pages of this novel you will be privy to many different voices and accounts of the same incidents or happenings. You will hear these events recounted by members of the same family each one giving their own slant or viewpoint. As Queen Editha, the wife of King Edward the Confessor creates her prologue each one of Godwine’s sons narrates his own viewpoint of events that happen. Harold, Tostig, Leofwine, Wulfnoth and Gyrth all present different perspectives related to things that happened, about to happen and the future of what their father has lost and hopes to reestablish. Some stories present a one sided point of view with the narrator’s account hoping to get the reader to side with his point of view. This novel focuses on the reign of Edward before William the Conqueror became England’s next king. Each character presents his case in such a way that they often seem devoid of emotions, stating the facts as they happen and relating them in a short, crisp and cold fashion. Harold takes the leading role and eventually emerges as the successor to the Earldom of Wessex. This of course did not exactly please all of his brothers who hoped to rise to the title of Earl too. Within twelve years, Harold as we get to know him better became loyal to King Edward and one of his most trusted advisors allowing him to take control of much of the government. Reminding readers of the first in the series where we get to know King Canute, his relationship with Godwine who is impulsive at times. As Earl of Wessex, Godwine worked with Canute and rose to high esteem with Edward the Confessor. Godwine’s thoughts and ideas are not always quite thought out and although his other sons are bright or have positive attributes we learn more about Swegn the oldest son who is more like an outcast within the family, creates friction, discord and unlawful acts drawing the family into a series of difficult situations and causing rivalries to rise up among brothers. The choices each one makes seems to link to his own advantages and not always what is right for the people they govern. Harold comes across strong, not of royal blood and although he appears to have what he feels events under control his actions often need to be rechecked and he is not guiltless. His older brother causes much strive and when told to leave the kingdom and once again exiled by Edward matters take on an ugly turn.
Eventually Harold becomes King when Edward dies. Power is his mainstay and reaching it at any cost even if those close to him suffer from the fall out. Because of her older sons behavior and actions she is brought down and to disgrace. They are forced into exile for one year and then return to London. Harold is about to take on the same journey as his father who is coming to the end of his own line. Harold is the one at the top and all of his family seemed to pale in comparison as we hear their voices as Harold takes center stage. Tostig when his older brother loses his earldom is devastated when Harold and several others are each given part of his kingdom. Tostig is angry and jealous; Harold seems to have too much self-esteem and overlooks his own flaws and imperfections. Sometimes there is one child who is favored over the rest and that would be Harold in relation to his mother. Tostig is supposedly next in line but does not fare too well and after a while he becomes angry and vindictive. The core of this novel is sibling rivalry, the thirst for power and the hope that one-day one of them would rule. Hearing the throngs of people regale in the presence of the Godwines when they return to London, the end result might destroy they had and accomplished and leave them open to foreign countries trying to take over. Harold marries Edith Swanneck and for a time is happy until he leaves her and his sons to go off on missions for the king and his father. Swegn kidnaps the Abbess of Leominster, and the violence in Godwine’s town takes the limelight during a visit from Eustace of Boulogne. But, Tostig gets his earldom but his brother Wulfnoth and cousin Hagen are taken hostage by the king and sent off to many different places treated fairly yet not freed. Held by Edward and then William, Duke of Normandy we also hear about the Count and why his daughter decided to marry this violent and dangerous man.
Things take on different turn when Godwine closes his eyes for the last time and Harold is asked straightaway to take on his father’s role much to the chagrin of Tostig. Ready to take control, manning his ships and ready to forge ahead we hear Tostig’s encounter and rendition of what he perceives as someone else dies and he moves into his spot. Will this stop the rivalry probably not as Edward does not approve of Harold’s wife Edith because the church did not properly marry them, as he deemed respectable and proper.
The remainder of the novel focuses on how each brother commands his earldom some with compassion and others like Tostig with violence and cruelty. Each one’s true nature comes through as they try and hunt down and stop Macbeth, Malcolm and others that might get in their way. ,
Battle lines were drawn, lives were lost and then Harold went to see Duke William and seeing his brother and nephew after all the missing years. Thinking that he too would get away after a while more battles were fought, William had the upper hand and no one not his brother or nephew would be allowed to leave if at all for a long time. Aelfar although considered a traitor was given an Earldom but died soon after. Tostig recounts many of the battles and although he thought Malcolm would eventually recognize him he was not. Earl Aelgar is dead and King Edward directed his steward to reward the man, and then made a comment to Editha, Harold’s sister. Next they would deal with Gruffydd in a graphic and violent manner leaving his wife all alone. The final scene lets readers know that although Harold promised three things of which I will not reveal to Duke William someone’s freedom would still be held and sacrificed in order to make sure that Harold does not go back on his promises. Brother against brother. Friend against friend and the end result has not been decided for The Sons of Godwine. There is much more to come in the third and final novel of this trilogy.
Besides the various recounts of events the author includes in italics Editha’s very own thoughts about his brother and several other incidents that will enlighten readers as to what really did happen and the emotional effects. The words and memories are part of what Editha shared in this novel, as King William would not longer allow her the protection she needed and she changed the commission t a life of her husband Edward. She preserved her real story as you enter the pages of this novel you will learn the harsh realities and truths. A unique way of presenting different viewpoints yet each brother telling it but yet we know its Editha who created this method of story telling.
The story is told in various 1st persons - the voices of the sons of Godwine (Swegn, Harold, Tostig, Gyrth, Leofwine, and Wulfnoth) and his daughter, Edith (wife of Edward the Confessor) each recount their side of the events in the 15 or so years prior to 1064. This provides a relatively balanced explanation of the events of those years that a story from only one point of view would not .
To my mind, the story began slowly at first, but by the end becomes compelling as we approach the better recorded episodes that led up to the Conquest of 1066. Recommended.
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" Mercedes Rochelle uses separate segments for each brother to tell his view-point, and as the reader we can...Read more