May 24, 2015

Book Review – Hild by Nicola Griffith


Good books, I find, are great for getting you through hard times.  Hild fit that bill perfectly as I read it over three nights in front of an open fire.

Hild is set in 7th Century England, and based on the historical figure that later became Saint Hilda of Whitby.  If you have an aversion to reading about the lives of Saints, set aside your preferences and delve into a rich exploration of character and a beautiful presentation of Anglo-Saxon England. From a short passage in Bede’s The Ecclesiastical History of the English, Griffith manages to conjure*  a fully realised, interesting character and give a real flavour of the time period.

The character of Hild is presented more as a natural philosopher, her thinking is almost scientific in her observation of the natural and political worlds she finds herself in. She sees patterns and frames her analysis of them in terms of prophecy – necessary for survival in a court with a fickle king and a priest of Rome who resents those with religious/mystical power, especially women.  The Gods and later God seem to be a frame of reference that she moves within rather than a deeply held belief.  I get the distinct impression that if the thinking of her time period allowed it she’d be an Agnostic.

It’s a coming of age novel, a tale of the rise and fall of Kings but the real tension comes from the precarious position of King’s Seer that Hild is groomed for by her mother. This tale should have something for everyone swords.  I found it weighty and rich in its language but not dense.  The kind of book that makes you notice the prose and leverages off it to provide an immersive experience.

While the book does reach a resolution, I felt that there was ample interest, story and opportunity for a companion work that detailed the rest of Hild’s life.  If you’re a fan of Anglo-Saxon historical, Hild presents a fuller world beyond shield walls and oath making.

* perhaps conjure is a little cliché and underwhelming - I want to invoke a sense of awe and magic that I know stems from shoulder to the wheel literary crafting.

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