Lyrical prose and rich description sets apart Naked: A Novel of Lady Godiva as an historical novel of note. Eliza Redgold’s distinctive writing style paints a stunning portrait of Lady Godiva, a woman who rose above the challenges and restrictions of her time to defend her people and land.
As the blurb says, “We know her name. We know of her naked ride. We don’t know her true story.” For those who don’t know, the legend of Lady Godiva tells of a woman who rode naked through the streets of Coventry, covered only by her long, flowing hair. She was no exhibitionist, but rather was paying a rather high price for asking her husband, Lord Leofric of Mercia, to lift a high tax on her people, that, if left untouched, would have resulted in them starving. The ride was a forfeit – Leofric would lift the tax if Godiva paid the price. Redgold says there are various endings to the legend – including one in which the people of Coventry closed their doors in respect for Godiva, refusing to look. History doesn’t seem to paint Leofric kindly, although it appears that he loved his wife.
Redgold’s take on the story is more romantic. Leofric and Godiva join forces on the battlefield to save Coventry from invading Saxons, who were brutal in their attack. The two are deeply attracted to each other and once married, share a passionate relationship, but stubborness on both parts means neither is willing to admit love is part of the picture. It’s this conflict (as well as the threat of Saxons, starvation and so on) that drives the love story. There’s also a lovely element in which Leofric seems always to be coming to Godiva’s rescue – the classic damsel in distress idea – but she’s no weak damsel. She sets her terms for their marriage, and to me, it’s she who rescues him from turning into a cold-hearted man.
The prose has moments of pure poetry: “Droplets danced into diamonds in the firelight” and “The candle dripped away its dim light” are examples. In the love scenes, the prose is more sparse, almost abrupt. It’s an unusual style and yet, it draws the reader into the moment, into the passion, showing that less indeed is more. I loved this:
His breath. My own. Great shallow gasps.
His lips opening mine. Seeking, sucking, tasting.
Naked: A Novel of Lady Godiva left a lingering feeling of satisfaction for some time after I’d set it aside. I enjoyed the glimpse into an historical period I knew little of – it’s made me want to know more. Most of all, I enjoyed the way Redgold wove this tale of courage, passion, risk, loyalty, and love into a book that, for me, is a keeper. What I’d like to know is, when’s the next book?
Available from Eliza Redgold’s website as well as Amazon and other online bookstores. My copy was courtesy of the author.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television