R84. Hild by Nicola Griffith

Year Published: 2013
Pages: 546

First Sentence: The child's world changed late one afternoon, though she didn't know it.

Hild is about a real person, St. Hilda of Whitby, who lived in 7th century Britain. This book is about her child- and young adulthood. I first heard about it when Nicola Griffith was a guest blogger for Charlie Stross way back when this book was first published. I added it to my list of books to read and kind of forgot what it was about, until I picked it up again a few weeks ago. At that point, I realized that the book concerns a character who also appears in Credo, albeit a very different incarnation of that character.

This book is extremely hard to write about. It reads like an exceptionally intense fantasy novel, what with the 7th century British names and the various terms that the author uses. It's also full of 7th century British political details that can be hard to follow and frankly sometimes hard to care about. It begins with Hild's father, a king of some sort, being murdered, and she, her mother, her sister, and her mother's platonic female life partner (?) and that person's son are all forced to leave the place they currently live and go to Edwin, who is King of the Angles. And then Hild, who is a very smart, observant child, becomes Edwin's seer. Eventually the Catholic church is involved, though only on the periphery. Basically throughout the book Hild and her family are struggling to maintain their importance to Edwin, otherwise they will have no means of supporting themselves and they will die.

Before I go any further with this review, be warned that this book has a sequel, which is to say that none of the plot threads you care about will end up being wrapped up.

Despite the hard to follow political machinations, Hild is full of great characters. Hild is great, her mom is great, King Edwin is great. The book is packed full of all kinds of different women, relating to one another in different ways and keenly aware of where their power (or lack thereof) lies. I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel.

I also really enjoyed Hild's strong connection to the natural world. She's the viewpoint character throughout the novel, and she is intensely interested in the flora and fauna of her world. She's especially interested in birds, not just as omens but as important features of the environment. She's out in all weather and competent at many things. Because of her position as seer, she is frequently in situations that are unfamiliar to the other women of her time, and this love of the natural world keeps her grounded and helps her to heal when she's unable to express herself to anyone else.

Overall, though, I still haven't decided how I feel about this book. There is one particular plot thread that I don't want to write about here for spoilery reasons but that I was extremely perplexed by, to the point that it kind of overshadowed everything that had come before. This plot line involves an invented character, so this was an explicit choice on Griffith's part, and I couldn't figure out why she decided to do it. If you're thinking that it's silly that something like this could ruin a novel that is much more complex —yeah, I agree! But I can't help feeling this way.

And yeah, I have to admit that I'm also disappointed that the book is not "complete," i.e. that there will be a sequel. Griffith leaves off her narrative at a point where it is not at all clear how we get from mostly-pagan teen seer Hild to wise abbess of Whitby Hild. Now I need to decide if I'm interested enough to read further, or if I'm ok with just imagining her transformation into Credo's Hilda on my own.

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