Well dang, this post is several months late.
I read a book (several months ago) that’s really great! It’s Hild by Nicola Griffith.
I thought about writing my own review, but this one says it better than I could. Give it a read!
A few of things I will add:
- The author kept a blog during the research for this book. There’s some interesting stuff in here and it goes to show just how thorough and dedicated Griffith was in her research.
- For me, this was a tough read, but rewarding. Tough, because all of the names are alien and easily confused. The book begins with Hild as a small child, and your perspective is limited to what she sees and understands. Grown-up politics will be confusing.But Hild was perceptive and sharp. So she catches on quickly. As the reader, you grow up with her, and start to learn the political landscape as she does. Embrace being a child at the beginning of the book, and try to remain as open and perceptive as she is. You don’t need to solve all the puzzles at the beginning. But don’t skim either. Pay attention.
- In addition to being a captivating story about a young woman learning to wield her political skills… this book is a fascinating window to the culture and economy of Britain in the 600s. It’s interesting to see the work that nobles did. What the division of labour was. Some of it is familiar, or at least expected. But much is delightfully foreign.
- The io9 review I linked to above mentions “In her later life, Hild (as she would have been known to contemporaries) became a famous abbess at Whitby, whose advice was sought by political and religious leaders. But we know almost nothing about her early life and young adulthood, before she became a nun. And that is the part of her life that Griffith explores.”
But it’s more than that, as I understand it (I could be wrong). The extant written historical record makes mention of her family when she was a child, and again when she is a powerful abbess. But where the record leaves off, the state of affairs for her childhood family is dire. Her father, a king, has just died – possibly poisoned by a rival. Hild, her sister, and her mother were left without a home or protection amidst a very volatile and fractious political landscape. Lords are all jockeying for power. Different ethnicities and religions are clashing. In this environment these three women must find a foothold, must find a court to provide them shelter – literally and figuratively.There is not another mention of her in the historical record until she is a politically powerful adult.
That is a fascinating gap! You just know there is a compelling story there. How does a young woman rise to prominence amidst all the chaos, violence, and bloodshed of seventh century Britain? It’s your classic zero-to-hero story. “THAT is the part of her life that Griffith explores.” emphasis mine.
The balance between the known history of this time period and what remains unknown seems to be at a sweet spot for an author like Griffith. There is enough evidence that a skilled researcher can really dive into the old texts and bring a lot of authentic details. Which Griffith does excellently. Just read her blog!
But there are also a lot of aspects about this historical time period that we know nothing about. Not just the major events of the time, but the culture too. The social structure. What people did for fun. How they organized their work. These gaps offer the space for a creative and thoughtful author to flex their imagination. Fill out those vacant spaces with interesting details.
Griffith stitches these realms together seamlessly. The research is top-notch, and so is the creativity. And the two serve each other well, so nothing feels disjointed or incongruous.
Whoops! I guess I had more than just “a few things” to add. Anyway, go read the book!