By Christopher M. Cevasco

Lethe Press


238pp/$20.00/June 2022

Cover by Inkspiral Design

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Christopher M. Cevasco's debut novel, Beheld: Godiva's Story takes a popular legend from the late Anglo-Saxon period and fleshes out the characters and events that the tale only hints at. The original tale states that in order to protest a tax levied against the city of Coventry by her husband, Earl Leofric, Godgyfu rode a horse through town while she was naked. A later addition added the character of peeping Tom.

Cevasco takes those three characters, but radically alters the details behind the story. Ignoring what the legend says and basing his novel on what little is known about Leofric and Godgyfu, he builds up a story of their lives during the reigns of Kings Harthacnut and Eadward, focusing on Leofric's attempts to ingratiate himself to royal whims and Godgyfu trying to find her own place in life with her second husband and a devotion to the church. Although Godgyfu and Leofric's marriage often seems to be one strictly for political purposes, Cevasco does show that they agree on their values, even if they doesn't always give in to the other's wishes. Leofric helps Godgyfu build churches in Coventry even as he refuses, over the course of several years, to request the monarch rescind certain taxes for the city.

Thomas is reimagined as a scheming novice to worms his way into the confidences of both Godgyfu and Leofric in different ways. Rather than being portrayed as a tailor who jumps at the opportunity to sneak a peak at his lord's wife's naked body, Thomas now has a long-term plan to seduce his way into Godgyfu's life and use her and Leofric to find ways to increase his own power. Thomas is a slippery figure, someone who seems to have his fingers in every possible pie, someone who everybody knows, but someone who is actually unkown to everyone he comes into contact with.

Despite the subtitle, Beheld is just as much Leofric's story and Thomas' story, although frequently the three stories are running in parallel to each other without crossing over. Even when the characters interact, they each seem to be moving along their own route, not really communicating with each other or understanding the motivations and plans of the other characters. As Thomas' plans begin to come to fruition after many years, the characters begin to have a greater, if incomplete, awareness of each other.

Each chapter notes when it takes place and there are often gaps of months, if not years between the chapters, which cover a period from November 1041 through June 1052 (with a prologue and epilogue taking place in 1028 and 1067). While the eleven year span of the novel allows Cevasco to build the relationships between the characters and Thomas' plot, the jumps between periods, often spanning several months, frequently gives the novel a disjointed quality.

The epilogue, set fifteen years after the final scene of the main story and after the deaths of both Leofric and Godgyfu, takes a look at the rumors that have grown up around those two characters, presenting the way oral tales can change in a very brief time. It also sets the stage for the eventual tale that has been preserved, essentially supporting Maxwell Scott's dictum from the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Rather than being a political novel or an adventure novel, Beheld is a personality story of its three main characters, hindered by its time jumps, but Cevasco does manage to connect things in the final chapters, eventually allowing the legendary tale of Godiva exert itself, perhaps indicating that the characters Cevasco spent so much time exploring aren't the most important thing in the story. Instead, the memory and interpretation of people is more important that who they really are. Thomas, whose identity is amorphous based on who he is interacting with, most fully epitomizes this both within the span of the novel and the legend that eventually grew from the historical (and ahistorical) individuals.

Purchase this book

Amazon BooksOrder from Amazon UK




Return to