Noble status, class status and what family you came from often determine your lot in life or whom you may marry. Godwine is an astute, careful, yet outspoken at times young man who as a shepherd when we meet him someone saves the life of a Danish Jarl named Ulf. Losing his way after a battle against the English, Godwine rescues him and takes him to his father’s home. But, since he is a Saxon he is looked upon differently than the Danish but Ulf sees something special in Godwine and invites and entices him to join his war band leading him to meet with the soon to be Danish King Canute. His lust for power takes time, as those in Ulf’s command do not immediately accept him. Godwine is the son on an important seafaring thegn of Sussex. Godwine appears apprehensive at times, not quite sure of his true worth or status, quiet and reserves as the warriors train him to follow in their paths and using his Saxon knowledge and therefore useful to the Danes. His first encounter with violence or an attack allows him to see that he too is capable of taking a life and soon King Canute feels that he is even more worthy and decides to take him under his wing but first he and King Edmund Ironside have to battle it out for permanent control. As he takes his place and then eventually meets Ulf sister, Gytha we begin to further understand Godwine’s limitations regarding taking a wife who is outspoken, self-absorbed and from the start lets Godwine and readers know that she is of the noble class and will marry within that class leaving him spurned for the moment when he approaches the subject with her. Things change and relationships and trusts are altered when Godwine becomes the Earl of Kent and Ulf decides to place his allegiance elsewhere bringing down the wrath of Canute. Gythia is snobbish, self-absorbed and could care less about Godwine and why he even wants to marry her is really an enigma at times. Canute marries Emma who has agreed that his children from a previous union and hers too would not ascend to the throne but meeting Ingrid his daughter from his first wife, tells you something is off with all of his relationships and these women who seem unattached to their children. The battles are many and the results are quite tragic at times but when Godwine decides to attack ) at night during a night raid it will either anger Canute or give him reason to think that Godwine needs more power and is truly loyal to him. But, what happens when Ulf crosses the wrong line? Kings replaced, Edmund dead or murdered and the end result will change the dynamics of Canute’s court.
Things change when Gytha has her first child but under protest as she really did not want to marry Godwine. His demeanor towards her became cold and distant and her attitude would soon change as Ulf was taken from her for his betrayals, Estrid Canute’s sister suffered at the hand of Robert her new husband and things in the kingdom would not remain the same. With Canute sick and dying, who will become the new king as Canute loses his daughter and sister before losing his life too? Will Godwine rule? Will Canute’s son rule? What is next for each of his kingdoms?
Godwine starts off as timid, shy and unsure of himself but as the story progresses he begins to develop a stronger and harder countenance and personality. Becoming closer to Canute and when he dies told he is to handle the kingdom but for how long. Wars and battles are many and lives are at stake it seems that during this time period the battle for power and kingdoms never seems to end and Godwine who came from a poorer background begins to flourish in power and wealth. Although many of the events have taken place the author does take liberties with some adding to the complexity of the novel and aiding in reader interest. His relationship with Gytha could be told even in a novel in the present time or any time period where they start off in discord and hopefully both will realize they were meant to be.
When Canute dies his realm is taken over by Harold Harefoot who is indifferent to the people and when he dies no one sees to really care and the funeral seems more festive than sad. Next in line is Canute’s son who not only gets confirmed but for two years his policies will remind you of some of the ones being put in place today. Taxes on the people to be collected with no mercy and no interference in order to pay for his army and other needs. As his reign was short due to an unexpected piece of food getting lodged in his throat things are about to take on a drastic turn as Godwine is accused of murder by the new King and then wanting his eldest son declared an Earl by Edward the latest King, promising his daughter to him in marriage created resentment in other circles. Tostig and Harold were granted Earldoms and now Swegn would reign as an Earl too but was Godwine satisfied when Edward decided to deplete Queen Emma of her wealth to fund his needs for the country? Was she so mercenary and why didn’t she care about any of her children at all? Change of commands and many lives taken as relatives pit against each other when Beorn and Swegn face off and one loses the battle. Godwine begins to lose favor with those that were aligned with him and even his children Harold and Tostig show their true jealous colors. Right out of any mystery thriller or news headlines today the author brings to light the issues of wealth, greed, power, control, jealousy and control. Each time a new ruler rises to the throne the dynamics change, the goals are not any different as ships are readied for war and battles begin to see who will come out ahead.
With his children around him Godwine makes a decision that will change everything as he is commanded to come in front of King Edward and deal with the many charges against him. But, he is smart and realizing that Harold is intelligent, has the ear of his people and that maybe he might be the core of how to gain their power back and the throne of England a decision is made but not before Swegn makes his own sacrifice but will he survive. The guilt about drawing Eadgifu out of the abbey and into his bed left him feeling that he needed to atone for his sins and protect her from harm. But, how does someone leave this woman and then her son too. Who will lose more? Why won’t they let him have some happiness and what about the fact that his own mother has shunned him all of his life? Will she ever see the light and embrace him?
An ending that lets readers know that the reign of Edward has not come to an end but that someone close to him cannot be trusted but will he figure it out. With Gytha concerned about Godwine and his health. With Editha being sent away so that Edward can create the battles and gain support author Mercedes Rochelle leaves readers ready for Part 2 to learn more about the Last Great Saxon Earls and the Godwine Kingmaker! Who will rule? Find out when you read part 2. Characters that are well crafted and realistically depicted with a bibliography that backs up her facts and research. This is an interesting and well-written start to the series.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine