Fatal Rivalry by Mercedes Rochelle

fatal-rivalry-mercedes-rochelle This is the third and final novel in Mercedes Rochelle’s Last Great Saxon Earls trilogy, completing the story begun in Godwine Kingmaker and The Sons of Godwine. Set in 11th century England, just before the Norman Conquest, Godwine Kingmaker told the story of Godwine, the powerful Earl of Wessex, while in The Sons of Godwine the focus switched to the Earl’s children – sons Harold, Tostig, Gyrth, Leofwine and Wulfnoth, and daughter Editha. Fatal Rivalry picks up where that book left off, describing the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

As the novel opens in 1064, Edward the Confessor, Editha’s husband, is still on the throne of England, but the question of his successor is on everybody’s minds. Editha’s brother Harold, who has inherited his father’s earldom of Wessex, has recently returned from Normandy, where he was made to swear an oath to support the claim of Duke William – not an oath Harold intends to keep, because he believes there is a better candidate for the throne: himself. History tells us that Harold will become king in 1066, only to be defeated by William at Hastings later that same year. Fatal Rivalry explores one theory as to why things went so disastrously wrong.

In The Sons of Godwine, we saw how Harold and his younger brother Tostig had been rivals since they were children; in this book the rivalry intensifies. As Earl of Northumbria, Tostig has become very unpopular with his people, particularly after attempting to raise taxes on Harold’s orders. When Tostig’s Northumbrian thegns rebel against him, King Edward sends Harold to negotiate with them. Seeing that the situation is hopeless, Harold agrees to their demands and Tostig is sent into exile. Unable to forgive his brother for siding against him, Tostig searches for new alliances overseas, finally joining forces with the Norwegian king, Harald Hardrada, and setting in motion a chain of events which contribute to Harold’s downfall.

Like the previous novel, this one is presented as the memoirs of the Godwineson brothers, with each one given a chance to narrate his own parts of the story. Leofwine and Gyrth have smaller roles to play, while Wulfnoth, held hostage at Duke William’s court in Normandy, makes only a few appearances – until the end, when he takes on the very important job of concluding his brothers’ stories. Understandably, it’s Harold and Tostig who get most of the attention. I’ve never read about Tostig in this much detail before and I did have some sympathy for him. I’m sure Harold was doing what he thought was in the best interests of the country, but to Tostig it must have seemed like an unforgivable betrayal, particularly when he learned that Harold had married the sister of Morcar, his replacement as Earl of Northumbria.

Fatal Rivalry is an interesting read and probably my favourite of the three books in this trilogy. Because the novel covers a relatively short period of time, it allows the author to go into a lot of detail in exploring the relationship between Harold and Tostig, the motivation behind their actions and how their rivalry could have been the reason why Harold was fighting a battle in the north of the country when William invaded from the south. I am not really a lover of battle scenes, but although there are two major battles which take place in this book – Stamford Bridge and then Senlac Hill (Hastings) – this is only one aspect of the novel and plenty of time is also spent on the more personal lives of the characters, such as Tostig’s relationship with his wife, Judith, and Harold’s marriages to Edith Swanneck and Ealdgyth of Mercia.

I think the Norman Conquest is fascinating to read about and, like many periods of history, there is so much left open to interpretation and debate. I will continue to look for more fiction set in this period and will also be interested to see what Mercedes Rochelle writes about next.

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

Advertisements

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.

My commonplace book: May 2016

A summary of this month’s reading, in words and pictures.

commonplace book
Definition:
noun
a notebook in which quotations, poems, remarks, etc, that catch the owner’s attention are entered

Collins English Dictionary

~

He could put the young king aside as some nameless bastard; he could take England into his hand to shape to what greatness he would. In that moment, he never questioned his power. It was his to claim kingship or forgo it. On the strains of the dirge drifted to him a sound of King Edward’s voice: “Richard hath failed me never; him I do well to trust!”

The Confession of Richard Plantagenet by Dora Greenwell McChesney (1913)

~

Vaux le Vicomte

The scaffolding had disappeared, flowers and shrubs were gradually covering the bare earth, bringing the flowerbeds to life, and Vaux was slowly taking shape, little by little revealing its full majesty.

The Sun King Conspiracy by Yves Jégo and Denis Lépée (2016)

~

Thus at two on a Sunday morning, on the second day of September, in the year of our Lord, also the year of the Beast, 1666, London begins to burn.

Fire by C.C. Humphreys (2016)

~

Phileas Fogg

The mansion in Savile Row, though not sumptuous, was exceedingly comfortable. The habits of its occupant were such as to demand but little from the sole domestic, but Phileas Fogg required him to be almost superhumanly prompt and regular. On this very 2nd of October he had dismissed James Forster, because that luckless youth had brought him shaving-water at eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit instead of eighty-six.

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (1873)

~

Even after all this time, grief threatens to overwhelm me when I think about my family…so powerful, so vigorous, yet all destroyed in a few short years. But still, we left our mark on history; never again will the world see our equal.

The Sons of Godwine by Mercedes Rochelle (2016)

~

Mary Anne Clarke

This was what they remembered in after years. The rest was forgotten. Forgotten the lies, the deceit, the sudden bursts of temper. Forgotten the wild extravagance, the absurd generosity, the vitriolic tongue. Only the warmth remained, and the love of living.

Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier (1954)

~

“The worst of it is, I’ll have to tell him so myself. He’ll never dare to mention the subject again, after what I said to him that night he proposed last. I wish I hadn’t been so dreadful emphatic. Now I’ve got to say it myself if it is ever said. But I’ll not begin by quoting poetry, that’s one thing sure!”

Love and Other Happy Endings edited by M.R. Nelson (2016)

~

She could not even recall his features properly nor remember the colour of his eyes, but she could recall how her heart had leaped when he looked at her. She could remember the sound of his voice but not the words he had spoken, as one remembers the perfume of a flower long after it has been pressed out of shape between the pages of a book.

The Queenmaker by Maureen Peters (1975)

~

Pembroke_Table_by_Chippendale

Sometimes the apprentice fainted with exertion and had to be revived with a cup of water dashed in his face. Thomas often thought, when a veneered surface had been subsequently polished to a satin-like shine, that it was doubtful if the future owner of the piece would ever have the least idea what sweaty, strength-wrenching effort went into the making of it. Hell held no fears for him. It could be no worse than a veneering shop.

Gilded Splendour by Rosalind Laker (1982)

~

“Jack, Jack,” cried Stephen, running in. “I have been sadly remiss. You are promoted, I find. You are a great man – you are virtually an admiral! Give you joy, my dear, with all my heart. The young man in black clothes tells me you are the greatest man on the station, after the Commander-in-chief.”

The Mauritius Command by Patrick O’Brian (1977)

~

Favourite book this month: Around the World in Eighty Days

Godwine Kingmaker by Mercedes Rochelle

Godwine Kingmaker Earlier this year I read Mercedes Rochelle’s Heir to a Prophecy, a novel set in the 11th century and inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Her second book, Godwine Kingmaker: Part One of The Last Great Saxon Earls, is also set in Anglo-Saxon England – in the years leading up to the Norman Conquest – and tells the story of Godwine, Earl of Wessex.

Godwine, son of Wulfnoth, is only eighteen when he meets a Danish warrior in the woods and offers his assistance. This chance meeting will change the course of Godwine’s life, because the man he has befriended is Ulf, brother-in-law of Canute, King of Denmark. When Canute takes the throne of England after the death of Edmund Ironside in 1016, Godwine is by his side offering advice and support. During the years that follow he rises to become Earl of Wessex, one of the most powerful men in the kingdom, but Godwine’s good fortune will not last forever…

Godwine Kingmaker provides a fascinating portrayal of one of the last and greatest Saxon Earls. I have come across Godwine once or twice before in other novels set during this time period, but have never read about his life in so much depth. As the father of Harold, the future King of England, his historical significance is obvious, but he was also a very important nobleman in his own right. I thought he was a great character and I enjoyed following his story from his humble beginnings to the height of his power and influence.

One aspect of the story I found particularly interesting – and also quite frustrating – is the relationship between Godwine and Ulf’s sister, Gytha. Gytha very reluctantly becomes Godwine’s wife and for a long time after the marriage she persists in denying her feelings for him, even to herself. Although her behaviour annoyed me at times, I thought it was good that this storyline was not resolved too quickly and continued to have implications for several of the characters later in the book.

Godwine is an ambitious man but he is also a man who cares about his family and throughout the novel we see him working to ensure a safe and secure future for his children, even while his fortunes rise and fall as three more kings follow Canute. Despite Godwine’s best efforts, his eldest son, Swegn, stumbles from one disaster to another, but it is his second son, Harold, who will carry the family’s legacy forward.

Mercedes Rochelle is now working on the sequel to this book, The Sons of Godwine, which will tell the story of Harold Godwineson and his brothers. I’m looking forward to reading it!

Thanks to the author for providing a copy of Godwine Kingmaker for review.

Heir to a Prophecy – A Shiny New Books review

Just a quick post to let you know that Issue 4 of Shiny New Books is out today! If you haven’t come across it yet, Shiny New Books is an online magazine for book lovers and is packed with features and reviews.

SNB

I was happy to provide a review of Mercedes Rochelle’s Macbeth-inspired historical fiction novel, Heir to a Prophecy. This is what the book is about:

Heir to a Prophecy “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.” In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, these are the words spoken by the three witches to Macbeth’s friend, Banquo. Soon after this, Banquo is murdered and his son, Fleance, flees Scotland and does not appear again in the play. In Heir to a Prophecy, we follow Fleance as he escapes to Wales and joins the court of the Welsh king, Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. Here he meets Gruffydd’s daughter, Nesta, and they have a child together. The name of this child is Walter and it is through him that the witches’ prophecy will eventually be fulfilled.

According to some legends, the Stewart monarchs of Scotland were descended from Fleance, although more recent research has shown that in reality Banquo and Fleance probably never even existed. However, this doesn’t make Heir to a Prophecy any less enjoyable to read. The witches’ prophecy is a starting point which the author uses to explore the history of the 11th century, mixing fact, fiction and fantasy together into one fascinating story…

You can read the rest of my review here – and don’t forget to explore the rest of the new issue!