Godiva: A Novel
Set in Anglo-Saxon England, this is a reimagining of the legend of Lady Godiva, Countess of Mercia, an 11th-century noblewoman well-known for riding au naturel through Coventry to relieve her people of unfair and oppressive taxation. Godiva’s unlikely friendship with Abbess Edgiva of Leominster, who has her own troubles, and her playful relationship with her husband, Leofric, also play major roles.
The novel is well-written with colorful description and detail; however, this reader chafed at elements of predictable and clichéd plotlines, such as the abbess’s pregnancy resulting from a one-night stand, and Earl Sweyn’s attempt to “abduct” her from the abbey. The notion of a countess playing matchmaker for an abbess, in the first place, pushes the limits of believability.
The most troublesome aspect, however, is the difficulty sympathizing with Godiva’s plight, as the countess is not portrayed as a sympathetic character—she is a woman who outspokenly prides herself on her ability to manipulate men for personal gain and expresses no remorse about doing so. Therefore, when the king offers her a choice of punishments, either to literally bare herself to the people of her town, or surrender the lucrative holding of Coventry, this reader could not summon up sympathy for her dilemma. Godiva engages in a game against a crafty opponent, and King Edward gets the best of her. The plot’s power to engage hinges on the reader’s sympathy for Godiva, which is simply absent in this case.
As much as I want to be able to recommend this book, unfortunately I found Godiva uninspiring.