Wednesday, March 19, 2014
I foresee great things...
By: Nicola Griffith
Hild is the story of the 7th century Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who became St. Hilda of Whitby. Very little is known about her early life, so Griffith had plenty of room to improvise. The result is a rich, compelling novel about a young, privileged woman coming of age in a time full of uncertainty and violence. Great Britain was made up of many small kingdoms, constantly warring with each other. Many parts of the island were inhabited by Celtic British peoples who were already converted to Christianity. Christian priests were working to convert the Anglo-Saxon leaders and their people. In the areas controlled by the Anglo-Saxons, the British populace were largely treated as slaves. Griffith recreates this world in vivid, sometimes gruesome detail.
Hild is an unusual, highly intelligent girl. She observes the world around her, both the natural world and the humans she encounters, and sees patterns that others overlook. Trained by her mother as a strategist who tells people what they want to hear, Hild becomes a valued counselor and “seer” to her uncle, the king of Northumbria. Her ability to make accurate predictions about the natural world and human politics gives her a reputation as an uncanny prophet. Lifespans were shorter in the Middle Ages, so girls were expected to marry from about age twelve. Hild does not follow the usual pattern for her gender, but rides with the king’s war band and sits with him in council.
This novel imagines Hild’s early life from the age of three until she is about eighteen. I was captivated not only by the story and the characters, but by Griffith’s detailed description of daily life and her use of Anglo-Saxon vocabulary. She frequently employs alliteration, echoing Anglo-Saxon poetic tradition. The book is densely written, but rewarding. I was happy to read in the author’s note that she is working on a sequel. I foresee great things.
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