Author: Nicola Griffith
Genre: Historical fiction, fantasy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A brilliant, lush, sweeping historical novel about the rise of the most powerful woman of the Middle Ages: Hild.
Hild is born into a world in transition. In seventh-century Britain, small kingdoms are merging, usually violently. A new religion is coming ashore; the old gods’ priests are worrying. Edwin of Northumbria plots to become overking of the Angles, ruthlessly using every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief.
Hild is the king’s youngest niece. She has the powerful curiosity of a bright child, a will of adamant, and a way of seeing the world—of studying nature, of matching cause with effect, of observing human nature and predicting what will happen next—that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her. She establishes herself as the king’s seer. And she is indispensable—until she should ever lead the king astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, her family, her loved ones, and the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can read the world and see the future.
Hild is a young woman at the heart of the violence, subtlety, and mysticism of the early medieval age—all of it brilliantly and accurately evoked by Nicola Griffith’s luminous prose. Recalling such feats of historical fiction as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, Hild brings a beautiful, brutal world—and one of its most fascinating, pivotal figures, the girl who would become St. Hilda of Whitby—to vivid, absorbing life.
The reason I love historical fiction is that it teaches you a lot about life in another place and another time. It's not a history lesson, with years to memorize and battles to know; it's more about daily life and the struggles of ordinary people living in exceptional times.
Hild is gorgeously written, and I can tell the author has done her research. But it's such a chore to get through! I've had it sitting next to my bed for a week now, and I've only read 130 pages. For comparison's sake, I usually read that much in a day. It's partly because the pages are dense, and there are so many Irish/Anglisc/Old british/Latin words that reading is slow going. It's also the fact that there are tons and tons of characters, some important and some not, but it's really hard to tell which is which. The story revels in the little details, which I usually enjoy, but in this case there are so many little details that I can't remember them all (nor can I figure out which ones are even important enough to warrant remembering!).
Every time I look at this book, I feel inexplicably tired, and decide that I should continue doing circuit problems to study for my electrical engineering class. You know a book isn't worth finishing when you'd rather put yourself through circuit analysis than read.
I don't dislike this book, and it has the potential to be incredible, but I'm just not in the mood right now. Maybe someday when I'm more determined, and have more ancient British/Welsh/Irish/Latin under my belt.