Gemma's Reviews > Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale

Hush by Donna Jo Napoli
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's review
Feb 20, 2010

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I picked this up on a whim after seeing it in my local bookstore last year. When I began reading it I kept getting a sense of deja vu, which confused me until I realised the plot was very similar to Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier.
The Irish girl gets captured by foreigners (Vikings nonetheless), put on a boat, carted away to a different country, and all without speaking a single word. Whilst Marillier tells the tale with a sense of magic and love, none of that really applies in this tale.

This is not a book for those who love happy endings; I'm a hopeless romantic myself, and there is often nothing I love more in a book than a nice HEA. So I'm actually quite surprised I even made it to the end of Hush. I suppose I kept on reading out of hope; hope that Melkorka would escape from captivity, find her sister, or perhaps be rescued by a knight in shining armour if you will.

As I drew nearer to the end of the book, it dawned on me that I'd read too many fairytales; no one was going to help Melkorka. Why should they? What were the odds of anyone she knew in her old life finding her while she was adrift in the ocean, or in Iceland? What were the chances of her ever finding out what happened to her sister? Million to one, probably. Whereas perhaps another author may have created an elaborate way for the heroine to discover these things & be saved, Donna Jo Napoli does no such thing. Instead, she shows the probable reality of what fate a person captured by the Vikings would have faced in Ireland all those years ago. She doesn't attempt to put any gloss on it, which can cause some really heartbreaking scenes to take place.

Melkorka is not abused as some are due to her captors belief her mute ways are proof that she is a mythical being, but it doesn't save her for long. She is bought by a man who likes her because of her beauty, and ends up serving as his unwilling mistress. Over time it is implied she develops feelings for him, and the book ends uncertainly with Melkorka pregnant with an illegitimate child. The author reveals in the ending pages that in the tale on which she based Hush on, the girl returns with her master only to be banished by his jealous wife to a life of hard work in their kitchens, her son her last hope of finding out what happened to her family in Ireland and sister.

To be honest, I was torn over this book - it was so bleak and hard hitting at times, and could become downright depressing. On one hand I respected that; too many books glamourise periods such as this in history, and props to the author for writing about such an event with realism and not through rose tinted glasses. But it often felt too bleak and harsh - usually with books like this there is an underlying message of hope, but I didn't really detect one here.
I admired Melkorka; she was very strong and suffered a lot, and telling it through her eyes was an efficient way of showing how a lot of people would have felt in those circumstances. It was nicely written at times, but it did drag in others, which felt inevitable considering the plot but still noticeable. But as much as I could appreciate the story, as much as I felt for Melkorka, I don't really feel like I can rate this book high. It just wasn't enjoyable. Yes, I know, given the subject matter it was never going to be, but in most books like this I can find a message in it; something that inspires me, or gives me hope. This just left me with a burning in my eyes and a really heavy melancholy that took a while to lift off. I've never been one for depressing books, and although it may seem ignorant and immature, a tale about a girl who suffers through hell and gets nothing for it just doesn't appeal to me. It happens in everyday life, yes, and if this would have been a real story I probably would have given it more; not because I enjoyed it, but out of respect for the person. But this was fiction, and in my fiction I like to be reminded of the happiness that can come from dark things in the world, which this didn't do. I just find it too hard to read about people, come to care about them, and then see horrible things happen to them - I immerse myself too much in their feelings and get myself upset.

There just didn't seem to be much point in reading about this; at times it reminded me too much of the misery fiction that's invaded literature - who actually reads that stuff? It's pessimistic and gloomy, and make me feel kind of ill.
So, as beautiful as it could be, Hush just seemed to have too much darkness and not enough light, and that made me unable to get any joy out of it. And since reading for me is all about entertainment and education, the non-providal of both of these things really made it so that this book offered me only doom & gloom, something I'd rather not have in my life - there's too much of it in the world already without diving into the past to dredge up some more.

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