Review: Hild by Nicola Griffith

17332243Title: Hild

Author: Nicola Griffith

Rating: 4.5 stars

I read this book from the library. 

Well, it’s barely February, and I’ve already read a strong contender for my favorite book of the year. Hild was an incredible novel, the kind that will be very hard to top.

Hild is born in seventh-century Britain in a world full of danger and change. Before she is born, her formidable mother declares that her child is “the light of the world,” and she teaches Hild to be curious, canny, and cautious. Because of her mother’s tutelage, she is able to catch the notice of the king Edwin, and become his seer and adviser. But it is a precarious position, living at the whim of a king, for if she ever gives the wrong advice, it could mean not only her life but the lives of everyone she loves. When Christianity starts taking hold over the kingdoms of Britain, the situation becomes ever more complicated.

Hild is incredibly rich, fascinating character. She is constantly straddling two worlds, and navigating her own path between them. As king’s seer, she cannot fulfill traditional women’s roles, but she also cannot take on wholly male ones. She must reconcile the god of her youth, Woden, with this strange new god called the Christ, who is unfathomable to her but whose priests are gaining more and more power over her king. She must keep a dangerous secret from a man she loves in order to keep him alive. And she must always present herself as the light of the world, because the minute she fails to do so she becomes nothing but a useless–and potentially dangerous–woman to her king.

Hild is historical fiction at its best. The language is so rich–rarely do you come across a novel where each word seems so carefully chosen, so potent. And it doesn’t impose twenty first century values on ancient peoples, as historical works often do. This is a foreign world, with different codes and values, and Griffith captures that very well. It’s a long novel, weighty, and took me much longer to read than novels even of similar size usually do, but it was well worth it. Hild stands as centerpiece to a huge cast of fascinating characters and an ever-changing world, and she will stick with me for a long time.

One small note to consider. The back of the book has a small glossary and pronunciation guide. I wish I had read these first. I have a passing knowledge of Old English pronunciation, and got most of those names more or less right, but the pronunciation guide to Old British would have helped me immensely, and though I eventually got most of the glossary terms through context, those, too, would have been great to have in my mind up front. I can understand why readers wouldn’t want to go into a novel with “homework” like that, but know that it’s there if, like me, you need the help!

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