Tom Behr)'s Reviews > Godwine Kingmaker

Godwine Kingmaker by Mercedes Rochelle
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it was amazing

By E. Thomas Behr, Ph.D., author of Blood Brothers: Courage and Treachery on the Shores of Tripoli, and The Most Bold and Daring Act of the Age.

A wonderfully executed, richly-developed historical novel!

Readers who enjoy tightly written, compelling story-telling with deeply engaging characters are in for a real treat with Mercedes Rochelle’s Godwine Kingmaker: Part One of The Last Great Saxon Earls. This is historical fiction in the grand tradition of Hope Muntz’s The Golden Warrior and Mary Stewart’s and T. H. White’s Arthurian sagas.

Godwine, an18-year-old Saxon sheepherder, accidentally meets and then befriends a marauding Danish nobleman whom he finds lost and wandering in the thick forest near his Wiltshire home. That friendship changes forever not only Godwine’s life, but the history of England as well.
Mercedes Rochelle takes us back into the dim past, almost before recorded history, when the nation we now know as England was being forged in the fiery crucible of war and treachery. Six hundred years before, invading Saxons had overrun England when the Roman Empire collapsed. Now the Saxons had gone from being conquerors to conquered as incessant waves of ferocious Danes and Norwegian Vikings attacked, plundered, and eventually settled in England, carving out a new kingdom for themselves in blood.

Godwine’s father, Wulfnoth, Thegn of Sussex, former commander of the Saxon King Aethelred’s fleet. had been wrongly betrayed and disgraced. Absent a father’s influence, Godwine’s ambition causes him to pledge his loyalty to his new Danish friend, Ulf, and to Ulf’s lord, the Danish king Canute the Great. Through his skill in war and politics, Godwine rises steadily in authority. Within 20 years he has become Earl of Wessex, one of the richest and most powerful men in England. Lacking royal blood, he cannot aspire to the kingship. But he does dream of the time when one of his fiercely competitive sons, Swegn, Harold, or Tostig, might unite England under a Saxon king.

In Godwine Kingmaker, the past becomes alive. Rochelle lets you walk around London and Winchester a thousand years ago. And for many readers, this is our distant past. Here’s the account of the Winter Solstice celebration that has now become our Christmas.
Inside the great hall … the carved Jul log was sprinkled with mead and decorated with dry sprigs of pine and cones. As it was lit, musicians plucked the strings of their harps and started the singing. Soon the hall was echoing with laughter … the children filled their shoes with straw, carrots, and sugar lumps and set them out by the fire to feed Odin’s flying eight-legged horse Sleipnir. … In return, Odin wold leave the children small gifts and sweets as a reward.

Many authors (too many) take the easy way out in historical fiction by using third-person narration to talk about their characters and the plot at length, keeping readers at a distance from the story. What I enjoy most about Rochelle’s writing is her skillful use of dialogue to completely immerse the reader in the story. It is as if we are in the midst of the action ourselves, eavesdropping on the characters.
But these are complex, ambitious men, easily provoked to violence.
The night after the battle, Ulf was pacing the room. [He} was almost festive, which contrasted with Canute’s dangerous brooding. Finally, Ulf came to a stop with a snap of his fingers. “I know, Sire. How about a game of chess?”
At first, no one paid particular attention to the game, until Canute said, “Put my knight back. Ulf.”
Ulf pushed his stool violently back from the table.
“I want to make another move,” the King said.
“No. Your move was finished and cannot be unmade.”
“And I say you shall.”
Clenching his fists and then thinking better of it, Ulf shoved the board from the table, scattering the pieces across the room. As he made for the door, Canute jeered after him, “Are you running away, Ulf the coward?”

Rochelle’s research into this historic era is impressively comprehensive. The small details (like how one eats a dripping piece of meat before the invention of forks!) are wonderful. But Rochelle manages the dialogue and the historical context without the artifice of contrived “historic” language. These are real people intensely engaged in life, love, and death.

There is so much to enjoy in this book. The battle scenes are suspenseful and gripping, and the descriptions of locales are vividly portrayed. The female characters, notably Godwine’s wife Gytha, are just as richly developed. Godwine’s and Gytha’s arranged marriage begins in hot fire and freezing ice, only ripening, over time, into deep love.

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for yourself or your friends to bring light and warmth to a cold winter’s night, you can’t do better than Mercedes Rochelle’s Godwine Kingmaker.
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Reading Progress

December 16, 2017 – Started Reading
December 19, 2017 – Shelved
December 19, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Zoe (new)

Zoe Porphyrogenita Table forks were in common use in 4th century Constantinople. As for Odin, feasts involving his story weren’t of much influence in most of Europe.

message 2: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Behr) Hi Zoe:
I'm sure you're right in saying "feasts involving [Odin's] story weren't of much influence in most of Europe." The focus of Godwine Kingmaker is on the Danes and Norwegians who invaded and settled in England, and for whom the Odin myths and pagan celebration of the winter solstice were central myths and cultural practices. There seems to be wide agreement that the Christian Church settled on December 25th as the date of Jesus's birth to take advantage of the pagan winter solstice festival.

I'm certainly no expert on cutlery. I did find some "fork history" at

It suggests that forks didn't make their way into Western Europe until the 1500s or even later.

See also and

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