John H. Manhold
Historical Novel Society Review Online
GODRIC THE KINGSLAYER (Sons of Mercia, vol. 2)
Eadric Streona is an unusual swineherd who, by intelligent maneuvering and some good fortune, managed to elevate his position in medieval Mercia, becoming a significant property owner and associate of kings. His bastard son Godric, shunned by his parents, is favored by Thorkall the Tall, a Jomsviking ruler in Denmark and a friend of the English king. When Eadric is killed, Godric seeks vengeance and goes to Denmark, where he becomes a mighty warrior. He returns to England, where he's involved in the endless intrigue, betrayal, deceit, suspicion, distrust, and jealousy inherent in the chaotic struggle for power that marked the period.
The author has given us a protagonist who must make endless decisions for which he does not seem qualified. The combination of Godric's courage and his naivete often lead him into trouble, but even so, the author has provided an interesting story set in a period rife with conflict and strange characters.
-- John H. Manhold
In this historical epic based on a real-life medieval rogue, a cunning young man rises through treachery—or is it statesmanship?—in an England beset by Viking invasions.
Teenage swineherd Eadric has no aim in life other than wooing scullery maids, but he has a quick wit that somehow lands him an audience with King Ethelred the Unready, and a silver tongue that thoughtlessly precipitates a massacre of troublesome Danish Viking immigrants. Eadric feels guilty, but in the year 1002 an overactive conscience doesn’t help you get ahead. Eadric does other small favors for Ethelred, such as assassinating an inconvenient nobleman who could be his uncle, and wins the sobriquet “Grasper” by using forged charters to steal land from monasteries. Soon he’s lord of all Mercia and married to the king’s ravishing daughter Aydith. Their love is strained by fresh Danish raiders, who make an almost yearly habit of slaughtering and pillaging their way through the English countryside. The ever pragmatic Eadric, who counts blood-soaked über-Viking Thorkel the Tall among his friends, favors buying off the Norsemen with Danegeld tribute—or even surrendering to the rampaging Danish prince Canute, whose ruthlessness Eadric hopes will bring stability and peace. Aydith, a spitfire patriot with a head for military strategy, seethes at her pusillanimous husband, who thinks she might be in league—or in love—with the masked English hero known as the Golden Cross. In the debut of her Sons of Mercia series, Woods tells a ripped-from-the-chronicles story—most of the characters and major events are factual—with an entertaining blend of period realism and Zorro-ish dazzle. She brings to life the violence and skullduggery of the age in exciting scenes of action and intrigue, while vividly rendering the mindsets and motives of this distant era. Her Eadric is a fascinating figure, an amoral yet sensitive man in a chaotic world, trying desperately, and not always successfully, to tame hot passions with cold calculation.
A gripping saga that reimagines a storied villain as a complex, sympathetic anti-hero.
Eadric the Grasper is a historical novel set in the beginning of the 11th century. It follows the life of Eadric, a former swineherd from Mercia who due to a chance meeting, becomes an important figure, and villain in 11th century medieval history. The books begins with Eadric working as a churl for Wulfric and the Dane, Lord Bram. While running an errand for his Lord, he comes across a crying boy. Eadric’s advice to the young man lands him an audience with King Ethelred and changes his life forever.
The book follows Eadric through his life beside the King as an advisor, and watches Eadric grow in prosperity and power. The book details his battles, journey’s, and controversial political decisions as he tries to ensure peace for his home of Engla-lond by any means necessary (the author uses the name “Engla-lond” for England throughout the book).
Eadric was vilified in historical treatises and Woods attempts to portray his story in a different light by casting him as a unwilling villain who is just trying to make peace with the Vikings invading his homeland while battling his nemesis, The Golden Cross. Eadric was a true historical figure of the 11th century and regarded as the greatest traitor of Anglo-Saxon history. William of Malmesbury once described Eadric as, “the refuse of mankind and a reproach unto the English”. He was of non-noble birth and advanced to the high status of an ealdorman of the Saxon Mercians by obtaining the favour of King Ethelred the Unready. In 1007, he also married Ethelred’s daughter, Eadgyth, further ensuring his rise in status. In the fight for England between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes, Eadric was a traitor. He supported the payment of the Danegeld, persisted in preventing Ethelred from launching an attack on the Danes in 1009, and deserted Edmund II of England to defect to the side of Canute and the Danes. Canute had Eadric slain on Christmas in 1017. Eadric’s head was said to have been placed on London Bridge and his body thrown into the Thames.
The book is an easy read and flows rather well. Eadric’s character is likable even though his actions may be deplorable at certain points. Eadric is a villain who is hard to hate because you can understand the necessity of his decisions, despite their consequences. His constant political maneuvering and personal relationship turmoil make the book an interesting read. I was never bored and looked forward to reading it.
My only other comment about the book is that it reads more like a fantasy novel than historical fiction. The cover art enhances this feeling. It has a fantasy novel feel and pace to it and while that may not be a detriment to me, as I read fantasy novels and enjoy the genre, it may be bothersome to some readers expecting a higher level of writing. It is simplistic, but good in that Woods explains roles and terms while telling her story without detracting from it.
Woods book is a great first novel. It’s fiction that doesn’t read as heavy historical fiction and it certainly isn’t dry and bogged down by too many details. I enjoyed this novel and look forward to the second book in the series. Eadric the Grasper will be released on October 5th, 2010.
“His name was Eadric, which meant ‘power,’ and he had been acquiring it consistently his entire life. Once a bastard and a swineherd, now a thegn. Who could say what he might become tomorrow?”
Author Jayden Woods explores the life of the “worst Briton of the 11th century” in her new novel, Eadric the Grasper: Sons of Mercia Vol. 1. From Eadric’s humble beginnings as a fatherless swineherd, to his meteoric rise as ealdorman of Mercia in northern England, Woods has provided readers a multifaceted view of one of history’s supposed villains.
A casual conversation about the Danish invaders plaguing England occurs between Eadric and a young boy, revealed as the king’s son. It swiftly leads to a summons to the court of King Ethelred the Unready, where, after some shock the king demands to know what he should do about the Danes. Eadric’s answer seems simple enough: deal with the invaders, as they have done with the English in the past, a history mired with their broken promises. Eadric is unprepared when his answers precipitates a massacre of the Danes, including his master Wulfric’s host. In the aftermath, Eadric soon has an unforgettable encounter with the king’s daughter Aydith, which will influence the course of his life in years to come.
Throughout the intervening years, Eadric attempts to survive the politics, famines and Danish raids that threaten to destroy England. However, he cannot remain ignorant of the upheaval for long because Ethelred soon demands that he kill a great Saxon landowner. Seeing little choice, Eadric submits to the command and gains land for his troubles. By then his reputation is growing unfavorably in the kingdom, as people question his influence. In an attempt to impress Aydith, he leads a ragtag band against the Danes and gets himself captured. Although he survives the ordeal, it is a turning point for Eadric, the moment where it becomes clear that prevailing winds of change can easily sway his loyalties.
For her part, the princess Aydith is a staunch, defiant enemy of the Danes. She harbors a dangerous secret, one that often imperils her life. Not even the mutual attraction between her and Eadric and their later marriage can distract her from the goal of riding England of the invaders. She refuses to stand by helplessly while her father vacillates and capitulates to every Danish demand for even more bribes. The worse betrayal for her is when she thinks Eadric’s sole focus on his selfish interests, and cares nothing for the fate of England. Although she tries to remain a dutiful wife, they clash and mutual suspicions ruin their former happiness. When Eadric finally discovers the secret that his wife has held from him, he must decide whether his own interests or her safety is his paramount concern. His choice surprised me.
Like Aydith, I struggled to reconcile Eadric’s character. I understand that for Woods it is no easy feat to turn the “worst Briton of the 11th century” into a man with distinct motivations. It was not often clear whether Eadric was on a quest for peace throughout the kingdom, or just in his domain, in an idyllic world of his own creation. Because of this ambiguity, he could easily swing from supporting Ethelred and his children to betraying them in the next instant. Although his relationship with Aydith grew difficult over time because of those actions, I never got the sense that they had ever stopped loving each other. Many of the characters refer to him as a coward, but I never thought of him in that way. If anything, he acted boldly and through astute observation of the swift changes coming to England, he did his best to forge a good life for him and his family. Still, his boldness accompanied a strange and dangerous naiveté that did not allow him to appreciate the full consequences of his actions at times. As in life, Jayden Woods’ Eadric remains a complicated character.
Historical Novel Society Review Online
by Steve Shaw
Posted Nov 2010 at http://historicalnovelsociety.org/hnr-online.htm
Eadric the Grasper (Eadric “Streona”) is a rich, swiftly moving story,
set at the beginning of the 11th century in England—or as the book has it,
Engla-lond. The research is intense (nice selected bibliography at the end),
with both the descriptions and settings deep and provocative.
Named by BBC History Magazine as the “worst Briton” of the century, Eadric artfully negotiated, fought, and murdered in his quest for power. His ultimate goal was peace—eventually managing to negotiate an uneasy alliance with the pillaging Vikings. Adding to his troubles, however, is a masked rogue, lone warrior, who has a keen eye for sizing up battlegrounds and plotting attacks on the enemy. This lone figure, the “Golden Cross,” needs to be captured, and when Eadric finds out his (or her?) identity, he is faced with a dilemma between love and power. Perhaps the best feature of the text is, in fact, the multifaceted personality of Eadric. Although he is brutal and single-minded in his drive for control, he is portrayed quite sympathetically.
A simple map of Britain is included, but one with more detail (cities, towns, etc.) would have been useful.
This book fits well with all public libraries; most high school libraries would also do well to acquire this. A confident middle school student would be able to follow along as well. The complex character of Eadric is a natural fit for all levels of book clubs. -- Steve Shaw
Author, Scholar of Medieval Literature
The reign of Ethelred “the Unready” was a disaster for Anglo-Saxons: one embarrassing failure after another, enormous amounts of money paid over to Viking marauders without any lasting benefit from it, ending up with a state of complete paralysis and the country handed over to Danish King Canute. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives much of the blame to the ealdorman of Mercia, Eadric Streona, but till now he has remained a shadowy figure. Jayden Woods’s new novel centers on him, noting that his name means “the Grasper” or “the Grabber.” And grab is what he did, turning a profit from all turns of events – and there were lots of them, with famous men like the Jomsviking Thorkell the Tall changing sides, Ethelred’s son Edmund “Ironside” dying under mysterious circumstances after fighting Canute to a draw, and accusations and counter-accusation of treachery and selling the nation out. (Quite like the Blair years in modern Britain, in short.) Jayden Woods makes a good tale of it, taking Eadric’s career back to the St Brice’s Day massacre of 13th November 1002 – his idea, and a characteristically bad one – showing how he built personal wealth at the expense of national power (Blair again), and giving him a mighty if unsuccessful opposite in the heroine figure of “the Golden Cross.” If only the English had taken her advice, and followed her lead! An intriguing take on a fascinating period of history that everyone till now has stayed away from. The sequel in this “Sons of Mercia” series is already in the works.