The Sons of Godwine by Mercedes Rochelle

The Sons of Godwine This is the second of Mercedes Rochelle’s Last Great Saxon Earls novels which tell the story of the Godwinesons in the years leading up to the Norman Conquest. The first book, Godwine Kingmaker, follows Godwine, Earl of Wessex, as he rises to become one of the most powerful men in 11th century England. In this second novel we get to know the Earl’s family as his children take turns to narrate their own stories, each from his or her own unique viewpoint.

We begin with a prologue in which Queen Editha, daughter of Godwine and wife of Edward the Confessor, explains that the book she commissioned on the life of her husband – the famous Vita Ædwardi Regis – was originally intended to be a history of her own family and that she had asked her brothers to write down their memories to be included in the manuscript. The Sons of Godwine is presented as a collection of the brothers’ memoirs (fictional but based closely on historical fact).

Editha’s brother, Harold – the future King Harold II of England – is naturally the most famous member of the family and much of the novel revolves around him, but we also hear from Tostig, Gyrth, Leofwine and Wulfnoth (though not from the eldest brother, Swegn) and through their alternating narratives the story of the sons of Godwine gradually unfolds.

Having read several other novels set during this period over the last year or two I feel that I’m beginning to know and understand it (though not as well as other periods, such as the Tudors or the Wars of the Roses). The Sons of Godwine takes us through all of the famous events and incidents of the time, including Harold’s marriage to Edith Swanneck, Swegn’s abduction of the Abbess of Leominster, and the violence in Godwine’s town of Dover during the visit of Eustace of Boulogne. These are all things that have been written about before, but what makes this book different is that we hear about them or see them happen through the eyes and ears of the Godwinesons themselves. I really liked this approach as it made the story feel more intimate and personal; the only problem was that there didn’t seem to be much difference between the narrative voices of the brothers.

As I’ve mentioned, Harold is given a lot of attention, but the other brothers have interesting stories of their own too, especially Tostig, who is made Earl of Northumbria, and Wulfnoth, held hostage by first King Edward and then by William, Duke of Normandy. They also each offer a different perspective on Harold’s character, viewing him with a mixture of admiration, irritation and envy. There is a particularly intense rivalry between Harold and Tostig, which slowly grows throughout the novel. Their relationship is going to be explored further in the third book in this series – Fatal Rivalry.

Thanks to the author for providing a review copy of this book.

10 thoughts on “The Sons of Godwine by Mercedes Rochelle

  1. Alex says:

    I like medieval historical novels, but in many books there’s this lack of women that puts me a bit off. How’s this one in that perspective?

    • Helen says:

      The female characters in this book don’t have a big role to play as the focus is on the relationships between Harold and his brothers. Actually, most of the books I’ve read set in this period have been male-oriented, apart from The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney, but I wasn’t very impressed by that one.

  2. whatmeread says:

    Until lately, I haven’t been that interested in reading historical novels set very early. But the last year or so, I read both The Wake and The Secret Chord, and ever since then, I’ve been much more interested. This series sounds good to me. I wonder if it will be difficult to find in the states. I like your new look, by the way.

    • Helen says:

      I wasn’t very interested in novels set in earlier periods of history either until recently, but I’ve read some great ones during the last year or two. I would like to read both The Wake and The Secret Chord.
      I’m glad you like the new look! I thought it was time for a change. 🙂

  3. Judy Krueger says:

    I really love the way you are learning history through novels. It excites me! I am trying to learn the whole world by reading novels. I recently read The Secret Chord also, and it is almost as early as you can get unless you read something like The Epic of Gilgamesh. I also remember being astonished when I read River God by Wilbur Smith and became immersed in the land of pharoahs and pyramids. But I think my very favorite early history novel, which also features women more than any other I have read was Hild by Nicola Griffith. A link to my review:

    • Helen says:

      I’m impressed that you’re trying to learn the whole world through novels! That’s a great goal to have. 🙂 I loved Hild too – I thought it was beautifully written and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, whenever it is available.

    • Helen says:

      I think this is a fascinating period of history. I knew nothing about it either until just last year, but now it’s quickly becoming one of my favourite periods to read about!

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