REVIEW: “The Sons of Mercia: Godric the Kingslayer” – Jayden Woods

Rich characters, misery, betrayal, sex and a dose of brutal Viking violence, mixed together for an easy, enjoyable read!

Author Jayden Woods releases her next offering in the “Sons of Mercia” trilogy, “Volume 2: Godric the Kingslayer” This story picks up on the life of Eadric Streona’s son, Godric.

It’s hard being the son of the most reviled man in England. That’s Godric’s first strike against him – having Eadric Streona, “The Grasper”, as a father. Second strike? Godric is Eadric’s bastard, his mother being Hildred, not Aydith the Aetheling. The final strike? Godric’s path in life is set into motion when he aides his father Eadric in committing a horrific murder at the tender age of nine. He pays dearly for his involvement and this first act negatively shades the rest of his adult life. The book is about Godric’s hardship after Eadric’s death, how the assassination impacted his world view and his struggle to overcome the adversity he faced because of it.

First, let me say that I enjoyed this book ten times more than the “Sons of Mercia, Volume 1: Eadric the Grasper”. This is not to say “Eadric…” wasn’t a good book, but Godric’s story captured my interest on a deeper level. Godric is fictional but based on a historical character. Eadric did have a son and it was assumed that he helped Eadric assassinate Edmund Ironside but there is little more than that to his story. From a writing perspective, this was great because Woods had an almost empty slate from which to build Godric’s character. She could take the reader anywhere she wanted while safely staying in the bounds of her historical period.

So we have “Godric”, a young, impressionable boy of nine who starts off in the book desperately trying to please his father, Eadric, and agrees to help him carry out an assassination. The murder goes off without a hitch but Godric pays dearly after Eadric is killed by Canute and Godric is forced to flee to safety. Unfortunately, Godric is caught and has his eye cruelly cut out for being the son of a traitor. After being maimed, Godric is taken in by Thorkell the Tall – a good friend of his father’s. He becomes a Jomsviking and learns how to fight and become a warrior. All the time, plotting a way to get his revenge on Canute for Eadric’s death and his eye.

The entire book has Godric encountering one misfortune after the next. You feel rather sorry for the Godric; he loses those people closest to him, he’s generally reviled, and when he finally gets in a position of redressing his wrongs, it’s hollow and doesn’t quite work out as planned. Even in love, Godric’s life is a mess. He falls in love with Osgifu, the daughter of Lindsey, one of Eadric’s loyal men but tragedy strikes and a horrible event tears Godric and Osgifu apart. It is not until the very end of the novel that we see some hope and light come into Godric’s life. Murphy’a Law has not been kind to Godric, that’s for sure!

I like the fact that Godric has moments of kindness and clarity about his life. I enjoyed watching him struggle through his anger and need for revenge to get to a better place. He has moments where he shows his kinder side. In one scene, where he is supposed to rape a girl, he gets her to make a lot of noise behind closed doors so that it sounds like he’s raping her but he doesn’t and lets her go. He’s a very violent and bitter character, but he’s not heartless and I liked seeing those snippets where the good in him peeks out. He saved face in front of the Jomsvikings and the girl was unharmed.

Canute and Aydith are featured prominently in this book – Godric hates them both and they are where he aims the bulk of his ire. Aydith, and her three children (all Eadric’s) despise Godric equally in the beginning of the novel but later on in the book, Aydith pities him and tries to get him to see another way of living life. Canute also repents for what he’s done but still, in these moments where Godric has the opportunity to take advice or make amends, he’s not ready to do so and his misery continues throughout the story. The characters in the book are complex and interesting. As much as I despised Canute, I enjoyed reading about him. Thorkell and Aydith are also favourites, with rich stories and intense personalities.

The style: It has a fast-paced, fantasy-esque feel to the novel. It’s not The Simarillion, or A Game of Thrones territory, but it’s a pleasant, fun read. Woods does a great job weaving together fiction and historical fact and maintains a balance so that the reading is never dry or dull. It’s a bit depressing at times that Godric doesn’t get a break until near the end of the book, but the events that get him there are exciting and keep the reader’s interest. The book is violent and graphic at times but the brutality lends itself perfectly to the period and the tone of the story – Godric’s life is constantly tinged by violence, regret and sorrow.

If you’re looking for a fun historical fiction novel, and you like fantasy, and the Anglo-Saxon/early Norman period, this book is definitely for you. In 2012, Woods will follow up with her third offering, “The Sons of Mercia, Volume 3: Eric the Wild”, that will follow another one of Eadric’s descendants during the Norman Conquest.

See also our interview with the author Jayden Woods

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