Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: Hild

Hild
By Nicola Griffith
Farrar, Straus and Giroux November 2013
560 pages
From the library

Hild

Hild is a girl with a gift. When she was born, her mother predicted that she would be the light of the world - the one who can predict what will happen, the girl who can put together the pieces that others cannot. As an advisor to her uncle the king, she has a unique position of power. But she also lives with intense and constant danger. In her time, kingdoms and religions are colliding and she sits in the epicenter. Who can she trust? Who is on her side and who is just looking for the next power play? When one wrong decision could mean death for Hild and for everyone she loves, every step is vital. 

This is the sort of book you want to live inside. Nicola Griffith has meticulously created a world on the verge of chaos. We readers get to enter 7th century England from a unique position. Hild gives us eyes and ears into both the weaving rooms with the women of the court and on the road to battle with the kingdom's warriors. But no one knows who will be in power next and everyone's motives are suspect. Hild travels with the king, from one town to another as they broker support for his rule and suppress uprisings. 

One of my favorite things about this story was the way we really understood Hild's loneliness. She is both incredibly powerful and horribly vulnerable. From her earliest days, her mother groomed her for power and prestige. She was not babied or allowed the luxury of a loving childhood. Instead, she was taught to observe others, taught to speak carefully, and to find the connections that other miss. She is constantly readjusting her balance between the masculine traits of bravado and violence with the feminine traits of observing and quietly working behind the scenes to make things happen. As one of the first of her people to learn to read, she realizes the power of the sword and of the carefully crafted word.

Griffith essentially had five pages of source material from a history of the English people written by the Venerable Bede. With so little to draw from, she turned instead to research about the time period and placed Hild within those confines. Her research is incredibly evident. The reader learns about the traveling court, the day to day responsibilities of people in the 7th century, and the tumultuous shifts between allegiances. It would be easy to get bogged down in so much detail, but Griffith's lovely and observant prose moves this story along at just the right pace.

Many critics are happily touting Hild as a feminist book. I think this is probably the case but, in a wonderful turn of events, it is a wonderful and engaging story too. We can only hope that the real Hild was as determined, flawed, and fascinating as Nicola Griffith has written her. There are plans to write two more books about Hild, as these 560 pages take us just from Hild's precocious and precarious childhood through her teen years. I can't wait to see how Griffith imagines her road to becoming St. Hilda of Whitby. 

6 comments:

  1. That's definitely a sign of a good writer when a 500-page novel doesn't bog down in the details. Sounds like this might be a good summer read for me; I just can't face that long of a book at the moment. But I'm glad to know it's good. :)

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    1. Yes, I think this book struck the perfect balance between making you really feel like you were there while keeping the action moving. I hope you enjoy it this summer!

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  2. I've seen the book here and there, but this is the first review I've read of it. I'll definitely be checking this out!

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    1. Yay! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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  3. You make this sound so good - I'm not reading enough historical fiction at the moment!

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    1. There are always phases, right? First you're missing non-fiction, then historical fiction, then new releases...Balance seems impossible!

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