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Hild is born into a world in transition. In seventh-century Britain, small kingdoms are merging, usually violently. A new religion is coming ashore; the old gods’ priests are worrying. Edwin of Northumbria plots to become overking of the Angles, ruthlessly using every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief.

Hild is the king’s youngest niece. She has the powerful curiosity of a bright child, a will of adamant, and a way of seeing the world—of studying nature, of matching cause with effect, of observing human nature and predicting what will happen next—that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her. She establishes herself as the king’s seer. And she is indispensable—until she should ever lead the king astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, her family, her loved ones, and the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can read the world and see the future.

Hild is a young woman at the heart of the violence, subtlety, and mysticism of the early medieval age—all of it brilliantly and accurately evoked by Nicola Griffith’s luminous prose. Recalling such feats of historical fiction as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, Hild brings a beautiful, brutal world—and one of its most fascinating, pivotal figures, the girl who would become St. Hilda of Whitby—to vivid, absorbing life.

546 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2013

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About the author

Nicola Griffith

49 books1,407 followers
Nicola Griffith has won the Washington State Book Award twice, the Nebula Award, the James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award, the World Fantasy Award, Premio Italia, six Lambda Literary Awards, and others. She is also the co-editor of the Bending the Landscape series of anthologies. Her newest novels are Hild and So Lucky. Her Aud Torvingen novels are soonn to be rereleased in new editions. She lives in Seattle with her wife, writer Kelley Eskridge, where she's working on the sequel to Hild, Menewood.

* Aud Torvingen

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,918 reviews
Profile Image for Paige.
552 reviews121 followers
July 10, 2015
So, I've been struggling with Hild: A Novel--or as I think of it, Hild: Nicola Griffith Did Her Research and She Really, Really Wants You to Know It--for almost a month now. I am only halfway through the thing. I've been thinking the whole time that, gosh, there are probably people who would love this book and devour it and celebrate its own unique intricacies, and how unfortunate it is that I am not even close to being one of those people. I do really love some things about the book--the political intrigue, the interesting and fascinating characters, and Hild's experiences most of all. At the same time, I would rather do just about anything than read it. I was finding any excuse to put it down, from doing my homework to taking out the trash to really tedious stuff like renaming files on my computer. Usually I read to try and avoid doing that stuff, which should tell you something about how Hild landed with me. The actual reading of it was pretty much not at all enjoyable.

To give you a taste, here is a random sample: "Two days latter, sitting in the meddaeg sun in the ruins of Broac, Brocavum that was, Cian was still lost in tales of Yr Hen Ogledd, this time of Ceneu and Gorbanian, the sons of Coel Hen, as told by Uinniau, Rhoedd's younger sister-son, who had ridden with them to the remains of the fort."

The whole thing is basically like that. There is so much detail but it's the wrong kind of detail for me. There seem to be lots of these types of sentences whose ostensible goal is to build some kind of authentic atmosphere, but so far they've all been dead ends; they're just window dressing. The way I read books is that I assume that what the author is saying is, you know, somehow significant to the story. You drop Broac, Brocavum, Yr Hen Ogledd, Unniau, Rhoedd and their younger sister-son, Coel Hen and his sons, Gorbanian and Ceneu on me all in one sentence, I am going to try to commit all that to memory because it could be important later. But it's not--at least it has not been so far. It doesn't matter if you know who Rhoedd is--so why mention Rhoedd and the younger sister-son and Broac-or-was-that-Brocavum at all? Meanwhile Hild's story itself jumps along without enough character development or information about her daily and/or inner life for my tastes. It is actually really really frustrating, because I am interested in what Breguswith is up to, and I care about Hild and her sister and her friends and her ~~wyrd~~ (it means FATE). But I can't read about the captivating Hild when Ms. Griffith is so aggressively pushing the "...half a mile from the tideland estuary full of oysters and mussels rounding into Streanaeshalch, the Bay of the Beacon, with its harbor that saw trade from Pictland and the North British, from Lindsey and the East Angles, and even the people of the North Way, whose narrow ships brought [blah blah blah]..." angle instead. She almost always sacrifices character development to this sort of super detailed history lesson (and I was at one point a history major, just so we're clear that I do actually appreciate history). Yes, it is thoroughly researched; I can't tell if Griffith was so enthralled by what she learned that she thought all her readers would be too, or if she was bored to resentful tears and wanted to inflict some of her suffering on us. So my eyes just end up glazing over and I'm like, "hey, I think there might be some grout in the other room that I can get on my hands and knees and scrub..." or, "you know what, there are some bills I need to pay," or perhaps my least favorite chore of them all: "time go buy ingredients at Costco." It was that bad, you guys. Ideally I would still like to finish it...eventually...but it's time to move on to something else for now.
Profile Image for Robin Sloan.
Author 26 books30.1k followers
November 19, 2013
It's been a long time since I was so happy reading a book this fat, and even longer since I was so sad to see it end. But! -- it took a gloriously long time to get there. HILD is a thick one. You get to the point where you're swimming in the world of the book, just totally entranced, drunk on story and language, and you think: given everything that's happened so far -- whole lives unfurled -- this must be coming to a close. But no: feel the pages beneath your fingers. You're not even halfway through. You've hardly even begun!

There should be a word for this: the sense of a book's great *bounty*. Whatever it is, HILD has it. This is a book that just gives & gives & gives.
Profile Image for Patricia Bracewell.
Author 5 books495 followers
November 17, 2013
Griffith's writing is gorgeous. There is an immediacy and specificity in her descriptions of the 7th century Anglo-Saxon world that completely immerse the reader in that unfamiliar time and place. She uses language like a magic wand, although the world she creates in this novel is anything but romantic -- it is hard and cold and dangerous; life is peripatetic; 'home' is a concept rather than a place; days revolve around the laborious tasks that keep a people alive, and years around the seasons of sowing, harvest, feasting and warring.

All of it is seen through the bright mind of Hild, the child that her mother has claimed will be the light of the world. She is canny and quick; she sees much and says little. We would call her a prodigy; the Anglo-Saxons called her a saint. Griffith has brought her to life.

This is a book to be savored; read more than once. I will be savoring it again.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,654 reviews273 followers
December 8, 2013

I have spent the last four days in seventh century Britain so fully engrossed in its brutal and beautiful world that sitting down at my computer feels like I have come back to the future.

Saint Hilda of Whitby, daughter of a Northumbrian prince, grew up to become an Abbess, a trainer of bishops for the growing Christian church in Britain, and a consultant to kings and princes, but except for a brief mention in The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede, aka the Father of English History, the details of her early life are scant.

Nicola Griffith, award-winning author of science fiction and mystery novels, grew up in Yorkshire, on the coast of Great Britain, formerly part of Northumbria. In 2008 she set out to write a historical novel based there. She now lives in Seattle but says, "I'm the product of two thousand years of history." She has been visiting Whitby at least once a year for about 30 years and researching the time period corresponding to Hild's first twenty years for over a decade. The result is her fictional creation of what might have been the young life of Hild.

Like many dedicated readers of fiction, I have long been fascinated by the legend of King Arthur. It wasn't until I read The Mists of Avalon in 1988 that I realized what I wanted to know about was the transition from the old pagan mysteries to the Roman religion based on Jesus Christ. At least in the Western world, it was an insidious transformation from a more balanced male/female culture to the partriarchal template under which we still live.

Hild, who lived a century after Arthur, was born a "pagan" under the Anglo-Saxon deity Woden yet became a Christian saint. Her mother called her "the light of the world." In Nicola Griffith's imagination she becomes a girl of preternatural intelligence, strong willed, observant, able to see the patterns in natural life and in human relations both personal and political.

She is one of those characters balanced on the bleeding edge between the male and female principles, between knowledge and intuition. She learns to read, she is brave, knows how to wield a knife, and does not shrink from violence. Yet she loves both men and women with a full heart. She is pushed into the role of the King's seer by her wily and ambitious mother and uses that position to keep those she loves safe in a treacherous and bloodthirsty world.

How could I not become completely entangled with her fate? She holds her own amongst many of my favorite heroes and heroines: from Ayla of Clan of the Cave Bear to Morgaine of The Mists of Avalon to Thomas Cromwell of Wolf Hall to Killashandra Ree of The Crystal Singer Trilogy and many more.

A word to the skeptical: The book is long. It moves at the pace of Medieval life, with the seasons and long periods of daily drudgery broken by feasting and sudden outbursts of war. It vacillates between the contemplative inner life of Hild and her feats of strength. Like most courts in these locations, they move from place to place on a regular basis and these locations, as well as the characters, are named in the Old English style, which can become confusing. A list of characters, a glossary and old maps are helpful.

But as expected from a speculative fiction writer, Nicola Griffith is a master of world building and she employs her vast research only in service of the story. Her writing is poetic and tuneful, like lyrics to a song. Either one likes this sort of thing or one doesn't and the author does not hold your hand. You must work for your reading pleasure just as the characters must work everyday to ensure their survival, but it is all leavened with wry humor, sex, and plenty of beer and mead.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,698 followers
January 11, 2014
I don't know when I last waffled so much considering how to rate and review a novel. I'm opting on the high side because Nicola Griffith writes with such confidence and because I believe that ardent fans of speculative historical fiction have every reason to be crazy in love with this book.

This reader got bogged down in highly-and-repetitively-detailed world building and the army of characters with impossible names and a plot that lurched from battle to battle for reasons that I simply gave up trying to follow and just enjoyed the scenery (Northumbria). I will stamp my feet with annoyance over an ending that totally petered out, but I realized about two-thirds of the way in that we were, in fact, witnessing only the early slice of Hild's life: her childhood and early teens. I'm guessing Nicola Griffith is planning another rich, thick, layer-cake of a novel to bring us at least through the transformation of Hild, the preternaturally-wise mystic, to Hilda of Whitby, Christian and eventual saint.

My three older brothers were avid fans of Dungeons and Dragons back in the day (late 70s) and I was allowed to play. Of course, I never got to be Dungeon Master--my oldest brother controlled the Player's Manual, DM guide and Monster Manual and the all-important sets of incomprehensible dice--but I was thrilled as only nine-year-old can be to play with the big kids, creating my character, learning her abilities and racking up experience points with my mace or sword. Hours upon hours were spent lost in a world of magic and intrigue.

I had to let that kid resurface to fully appreciate Hild. I played along, skimmed over the boring bits, stopped trying to make sense of names that appeared once or twice, then were swept away as the king's entourage moved on to the next manor, and relaxed into whatever intrigue was in motion at the moment.

The recorded history of seventh century Britain is hazy enough and wrapped in a world of Tolkienesque imagination that a writer can maximize themes of mysticism and chivalry; we're only a couple hundred years past King Arthur, after all. But don't look for "Game of Thrones" humor or breezy writing--Hild takes itself very seriously and Griffith's prose is formidable. Do settle in and be swept away to the Early Middle Ages. If you are a fan of historical fiction set in medieval Europe, you will be immensely, deeply satisfied by Hild. If you aren't, well, I'm not sure that you'd pick up this book in the first place, but if you do, grab a flagon of mead, loosen your breeches, set your sword to the side and keep your wits about you. It's going to be a long night.
Profile Image for Tanja Berg.
1,828 reviews409 followers
December 22, 2013
Given up at page 150. I do not care what happens to any of the characters, there is almost no forward tension and the historical details in themselves are not enough. I strongly suspect that if I bothered to struggle through the rest, I would hate it even though I desperately want to like it. So I won't. Goodbye and good luck Hild. I hope you were more interesting in real life.
Profile Image for Samantha Shannon.
Author 27 books18.5k followers
February 6, 2020
I'm a fast reader, and usually it wouldn't take me more than a few days to fly through a book the size of Hild – yet it ended up taking me weeks to finish. Not because there was anything wrong with it, but because (a) I had to keep putting it down so I could absorb what I was reading, and (b) it was so immersive, I needed to be able to set aside a few hours each time I opened it so I could sink in without being disturbed.

Hild is slow-pouring honey. It is rich with detail, gradual in its movement, and golden in its descriptions. Griffith depicts the natural world in a way I found sublime, illuminating the ruthless beauty of this era. Though it takes a while to get a handle on the political intrigue, it is compelling, especially where it overlaps with religion. What I liked most of all, however, was the focus on the role of women in this society, and the complex relationships between them. I'm so relieved there's a sequel on its way.
Profile Image for Wealhtheow.
2,413 reviews536 followers
January 10, 2014
Before she was even born, Hild's mother prophesied that she would be "the light of the world." Hild turned out not to be the boy her parents expected, but her mother trains her to become an important figure nevertheless. As a child, Hild's sharp mind merits her a reputation as a seer and inclusion in her uncle, King Edwin's, household. Through observation, curiosity, and never-ceasing reflection, Hild's mind continues to expand amidst never ending political (and physical) battles.

Every moment felt authentic. Hild's society is as real and lived-in as our own. Griffith has done a truly prodigious amount of research to create this utterly believable window into the past, but she doesn't dump information onto the reader, or use it simply as window-dressing. The characters feel that gods and spirits are close and might intervene at any time--they're confused by Christ, who doesn't seem to get drunk or make jokes or be involved in any of the daily labor and war that make up their lives. Literacy is a game-changer, but one that takes a while to make its influence known. Matters of the body, like sex or urination, aren't private in the same way they are today. Family connections and webs of relationships are of huge importance. Foreignness and class status are marked in their own, distinctly medieval, ways. All of this is conveyed on the sly, so that the reader doesn't quite realize how much they've learned about Hild's world until its over. I loved the way Griffith wove in trade routes, weather patterns, and all manner of other considerations into her tale, without ever losing focus.

Hild is based on Saint Hilda of Whitby, but so little is known about her that Griffith is free to invent a great deal to explain how she went from fatherless noble lady to esteemed Christian abbess. I loved much of her inventions. I've seen other reviews question the gemæcca concept--the formal pairing of two women, in the same sense as a lady and her lady-in-waiting. It's true that I haven't seen it described elsewhere, but then, women's life is so rarely described in extant sources that invention of some kind is necessary. Too, the concept fits with the society as another strand in the peace-weaving web; seventh century Britain had all sorts of oath-based relationships that involved men, so why not one for women? Other readers question whether sex between women would have been accepted the way it is in Hild, but A)this is pre-Christianity, and B)early Christianity wasn't all that down on sex between women anyway. These creations, like Griffith's other choices in the novel, didn't startle me or seem strange in the least; she fits them in well with the rest of the narrative. One invention only bothered me:

That aside, I absolutely loved this book. The language is beautiful, without a wasted word or awkward phrase. Every single image comes into play somehow; every experience shapes Hild or informs our understanding of her world. Hild is so present, so utterly real, from the unstated loneliness of her early childhood (never more poignant than when she threatens a priest to get him to teach her sister to read, so she can maintain a connection with one of her sole relatives even across great distances) to her slow awakening sexuality (ahh that scene with the milk!) to her coming to terms with ruthlessness against the bandits of Elmet. In her, and in all the characters who oppose, help, and surround her, Griffith has created something truly special and uniquely human. The ending bothered me, because it felt like I'd been in the middle of a stream and then abruptly was plucked out of it. To strain the metaphor further, I expected a waterfall, or to end in a peaceful pond, but instead the stream--er, narration, just stops. I hear that Griffith is working on a sequel to this novel, which explains why we leave Hild when she is still a young adult, still nowhere near founding any abbeys or becoming a saint.
Profile Image for Liz.
33 reviews17 followers
February 7, 2014
This book is driving me nuts, because parts of it are so wonderful and parts are utterly infuriating.

My objections are similar to the ones appearing in other reviews. Yes, it is meticulously researched, and paints a very real-seeming picture of daily life for women in the time period. I often felt very immersed in the world of the book. Yes, Hild the character is awesome and brilliant and genre-convention-breaking.

But this book meanders, and it does a very poor job of explaining just what the hell is going on outside of wherever Hild happens to be. The various warring kingdoms and enemies of her uncle are loosely sketched and poorly explained- even her own mother's activities and goals are completely opaque. Characters might be vaguely mentioned once and then appear again 300 pages later, with no reminder as to who they are or why we ought to care. And Hild herself falls victim to Ender's Game syndrome- I don't care if she has a 200 IQ, a four-year-old girl would not talk and think like the four-year-old Hild in this book.

Finally, it really annoyed me that the author completely invented the concept of gemaecce for this book and then made it an integral part of the social structure of the time. If I'm reading historical fiction, I like it to be as realistic as possible to the time it's set in.

Bottom line, I think this is a wonderful book in desperate need of some major editing.
Profile Image for Lauren.
1,353 reviews66 followers
October 3, 2013
I was underwhelmed by this. I was reading an ARC so I didn't have the author's note or maps, so perhaps I was at a disadvantage but I don't know why Griffths' novel stopped before Hilda's transformation to the abbess of one of the most notable monastic houses of the early medieval period. The novel felt very hodgepodged to me - lots of research,a modern sensibility and an ending that I didn't believe.

It's also a complex time of warring factions, tribes, and religious tensions and there is simply too much going on. The novel is quite hard to follow. Maybe the historical research got the better of Griffths and she lost the emotional connection to her characters.

I know comparisons are odious but I can't help but think of Hilary Mantel's novels on Thomas Cromwell which have a similar complexity but also make a real connection with the reader.

I feel like Griffiths has missed the mark with Hild.

Profile Image for Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse).
446 reviews905 followers
August 14, 2016
Historical fiction (but is it?) about a lonely, violent, spookily-intuitive, pagan (tho’ converted), lesbian (Griffith says she’s actually bi) saint-to-be and her manipulative, astonishing mother, written as though it was speculative fiction.

If you think there’s a lot to unpack in that first sentence, you ain’t read Hild yet.

Politics, war, and the very early Christian conversion attempts by Roman priests in 7th Century Britain.

Women. Spinning, weaving, plotting, planning, making the world go 'round.

A plucky, promiscuous slave-maid. A kind, prescient slave-priest.

Avaricious bishops. Cruel kings who condemn with a smile and kill with the flick of a ring.

More plot threads, family trees, shifting alliances, and linking symbolism (most based on the natural world or women’s never-ending work of weaving) than you can stab a sword at. Patterns, patterns everywhere. And Hild the primary pattern seer, oracle and omen reader – reader and writer, she’s literate (taught by the aforementioned slave-priest) – and pattern weaver for her uncle, King Edwin of Northumbria.

Hild looks for the patterns, deciphers them, feeds them back to those who can act on them – and predicts the future to save her own life, to save Cian, to save her household, her gemaecce Begu (think pagan BFFs with benefits!) and her maid Gwyladus (does the laundry!).

Mostly, to make a place for herself in the weave of this world.

A book about power and greed and the feuding Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that would eventually shape-shift into the Plantagenets and Tudors and the royal lines that remain today – so there is that connection with the modern world, the common strand that links their past with our present. Mud and blood, oaths and omens, wool and mead … and ways of thinking and being that are at once foreign and familiar.

Griffith provides a geneology and a map at the front, a glossary at the back – only the glossary is truly helpful; the rest I totally gave up trying to figure out. Who ruled who and where and why. Whew.

It matters: the colour of your hair and eyes, revealing your bloodline; the scop’s songs lauding your ancestry back to Woden. As soon as you’re conquered, though, you immediately convert to a new allegiance. Ding dong the king is dead, long live the king. For the peasants, living in their wattled huts with their pigs, it doesn’t matter at all.

Don’t think for a second that in this cold, wet, cruel, harsh world Griffith is going to be staking a social justice claim. N’uh unh.

The natural world, the political world, the spiritual world and how an early, pagan/pre-Christian culture understood it and survived within it – that’s the world of Hild.

Utterly convincing landscapes in every sense, psychological and physical, other and ourselves in equal measure.

Also: this book is all about women: these particular women and how they think, how they organize themselves, what their true power is in a society that values them only for who they can be married off to (peaceweaving), or for the (boy) babies they can produce.

Hild, the character, is both of the woman's world and also of the men's – she goes into battle, she’s a fierce and fearless fighter, who takes a certain amount of delight in killing, it seems – but really, she’s of neither. She is the ultimate political strategist, and does what she has to do to maintain her credibility with Edwin and to fulfill the ‘wyrd’ – fate – she’s been born into.

She listens, watches, waits – and freaks everyone out as she does so, gathering power around her like a blanket, wrapping those she can in its comfort, but never feeling safe herself.

Trouble meant they had to listen, not fight.

Yet, though her isolation and impact as "the light of the world", the king's seer, is the central focus, she is also in many ways one of the less interesting things about this Celtic knot of a novel. Which says more about how many other things are interesting than it does about Hild, the character.

The easiest comparison is to Mantel's Cromwell/Tudor England. There is the same rich detail and world-creating, and the same sense that each plucked a figure out of the din of history and reverse-engineered them to try to figure out how and who they were. But where Mantel's focus is on the character, Griffith's is on the setting. All that she – or any of us – know about Hild is that she began life as the second daughter of widowed Queen Breguswith and became a key member of King Edwin’s court and later, Saint Hilda of Whitby.

All the stuff in between, Griffith is delighted to tell us, she ‘made up.’ As Mantel did, too – but Mantel stayed mostly in Cromwell’s head, developing his psychology and creating him from the inside out with a lot more detail known of his setting and context; whereas Griffith creates Hild from the outside in with very little known about her historical context.

The world she builds, and the men who rule it, are jaw-droppingly cruel and capricious. "We’ll eat the horse", says Edwin as instruction to lop off a bad-tidings-bearing messenger’s head; the phrase crops up repeatedly as short-hand for Edwin’s murderous omnipotence, the moment-to-moment variability of the king’s favour, and the need to constantly be on guard to curry it.

In the meantime, the women glide in and out and around stroking that ego, influencing, manipulating, managing. It’s completely convincing, and, if not quite ‘real’ in the historically accurate sense, real enough. A really good story – as real as it needs to be.

Hild the character is an enormous achievement, but it's the world that Griffith has created that steals the show.

Things I loved:
- Hild’s focus on the natural world and how Griffith describes it. The novel is extremely sensual: sights, sounds, smells are vital not only to bring the world to life, but because these are what Hild relies on to ‘see the pattern.’
- The gorgeous writing.
- The importance of communicating: not only reading and writing, but listening and understanding, in multiple languages. It marks Hild as different, and gives her a survival skill. It’s another clue, another strand in this story, that bridges the middle ages with the modern.
- Hild’s mother: what a portrait! Part mama bear; part viper. She’s worth a novel of her own. I wanted to see more of her; she disappeared in the middle, and then re-entered. Breguswith lit up every scene she was in.
- The baptism scenes and the way Griffith reveals the underlying greed and lust for power that motivated the early conversions to Christianity. How religious conversion and the goals of Rome played into the Anglo-Saxon power dynamics that led to the rise of some and downfall of other kings. How transient, superficial, artificial these conversions were - yet obviously, they 'took'. Merry Christmas.

Things I still can’t wrap my mind around, quite:

The fluid sexuality throughout the novel was one of the key elements that moves this from historical into speculative fiction for me – and I’m not quite sure what Griffith was getting at here beyond just wanting to give her characters fully-dimensional lives. It’s a major part of the book and sits as counterpoint to the heterosexual sex-and-marriage that is political, versus the sex that people do for fun.

For me, it’s a decorative detail not a central story element that I need to disentangle.

But, it stands in stark contrast to

I’m hoping the sequel will make it all a little bit clearer.
Profile Image for Simon.
Author 6 books136 followers
July 13, 2014
"The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." (Faulkner)

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." (L.P.Hartley)

These two quotes, pulling against each other, capture something immensely important between them. I'm always fascinated in historical fiction to see how authors deal with this. How do they give a sense that they're not writing about "us in fancy dress, with our mouths full of... prithees and zounds," (as J.L. Carr puts it), but still do justice to the fact that we are all "sisters under the skin"?

This book about Hild (St. Hilda), in 7th century England, solves the problem in an amazing way. The people leap off the page at once and grab you by the heart (and sometimes the throat), and yet it is indisputably a very, very strange world they inhabit.

One thing I found very striking was how young Hild is when she has to start being an adult. The novel begins when she is three, with the death of her father, and from that moment she is forced, in order to survive, to inhabit a role laid out for her in advance by her formidable mother, Breguswith, as the "light of the world" and "seer to the king." In this respect, there was a strong resemblance to Griffith's book Slow River, in which the protagonist also becomes an adult very quickly. I'm not quite sure I can put my finger on why, but these two novels, despite being so different in their settings and subject matter, seem to have a very close affinity. And they both affected me in something like the same way.

I wish I could say more about how I feel about this book... but words fail me! I may update later if I am inspired.
Profile Image for Justin Robinson.
Author 35 books151 followers
February 22, 2015
Did not finish. Threw in the towel on page 124 after another scene of farm chores and conversations about Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Book.

I wanted to like this one. I really did. Orphaned noble attempts to navigate tricky politics she only barely understands in Dark Ages Britain? And it's all historical? Sounds incredible. Unfortunately, the reality is ridiculously dull and cluttered with pointless detail and irrelevant names.

Reading Hild is a lot like being cornered at a party by someone who has just finished listening to a bunch of educational podcasts, and they're going to tell you everything they know. Problem is, they refuse to make eye contact and thus never detect the increasingly panicked expression on your face as you wonder if a cocktail weenie is useful in a murder/suicide kind of situation.

The amount of research that went into this book had to have been staggering, but a good writer would have made that nearly invisible in service to the story. Instead, I spent the whole time cornered at that party, wishing Nicola Griffith would go away and let me enjoy myself.
Profile Image for Terry .
394 reviews2,142 followers
May 18, 2021
2020 re-read: There's not much I can add to my original review below aside to say that this is still a great book, and has definitely made it to the re-read list. I only wish I could expect the sequel to be out sooner than currently projected!

Original review:
The bottom line is that this was a wonderfully engrossing read and I can’t give it less than 5 stars. Time will tell if it becomes a perennial favourite added to the re-read queue (though it likely will), but regardless of this it was a fantastic example of how to do an excellent work of historical fiction...or just fiction period. It was a long-ish book at 546 pages, but I found myself feeling that I could have read another 500 pages in Hild’s life and am therefore eagerly anticipating the proposed sequel(s). Perhaps that alone says it all (especially given that I don’t always have a great track record with long books unless they really capture my imagination).

The story takes place in 7th century England (or pre-England as this is the era when the Anglo-Saxons, or Anglisc as Griffith has it, were beginning to establish their kingdoms which would, one day, become the united kingdom of England). Now, however, we have many rival cultural groups: from the Anglisc who have moved from invaders to overlords of several competing kingdoms, the Britons of Celtic descent native to the island and still holding out in a few independent domains, to the Celtic Irish who have their own designs on the Isle of Britain. The centre of the tale from a historical context is the rise of the Yffing clan under the overlordship of Edwin who would come to consolidate the tribal lands of Deira and Bernicia into the kingdom of Northumbria with designs on becoming the King of all the English. Our central character, however, is the titular Hild, the daughter of Edwin’s nephew Hereric, a previous contender for Edwin’s throne who died under mysterious circumstances while in exile (a not uncommon situation for many of these ‘athelings’, or royal candidates, in the period).

One would imagine that the position of the daughter of a slaughtered rival would have made Hild’s continued existence precarious with the rising Edwin. Thankfully for Hild her mother Breguswith was a woman of great ability and foresight. Through careful cultivation of the mystique surrounding her purported ‘vision’ of the then-unborn Hild as “the light of the world”, in tandem with her careful planning and political manoeuvering, Breguswith manages to secure a place for herself and her children in the household of the newly installed king Edwin. Thankfully for Breguswith her daughter is precocious from a young age and able to pick up quickly on the lessons of her wily mother and we come to see how an intelligent and perceptive young girl who pays close attention to all that goes on around her, when paired with a sly (or some might even say conniving) mother willing to pull any necessary strings, can fairly easily find herself considered a seer of remarkable powers. Of course a good dose of luck at the right time doesn’t hurt either.

Hild as depicted by Griffith is a fascinating character. Her most obvious trait being her perceptiveness, her ability to be still and observe what goes on in the world around her, whether it be the natural changes of the seasons and the signs of weather, flora, and fauna that she can use to her advantage, or the cues that those around her drop as to their desires and intentions of which they are not even aware. If I may take a short digression into nerd-dom I would say that she is almost like a toned-down Bene Gesserit from Frank Herbert’s Dune (fitting perhaps given that some in the book call her haegtes or witch) reading the subtle cues of human nature and drawing from them astute inferences and conclusions. This ability to observe implies that Hild is often living at the edge of things looking in from the outside and in many ways, especially given her growing reputation as seer to the king, this separation from others comes to define her. The role of seer may bring with it a certain prestige, and even a tenuous safety in the politically uncertain world of Edwin’s court, but it is a double-edged sword that also brings with it a separation from others. As a result Hild gathers around herself many admirers and devotees (in addition to rivals and outright enemies), but relatively few friends. Most see her as “…not human, more like a wall, a tide, the waxing of the moon. A force of nature. Implacable, untouchable.”

It is not only Hild who fascinates however, and Griffith does an excellent job with all of her characters. Hild’s mother Breguswith stands out for me in particular as an intriguing picture of a strong and capable woman, nearly as perceptive as her daughter and paired with a ruthless cunning that never quite borders on evil, but always makes us wonder about where she stands in any given situation. Cian, the half-British (or wealh the Anglo-Saxon term for any ‘foreigner’ or non-Anglisc person which eventually became the term ‘Welsh’ as applied to the people of Wales) foster-brother with whom Hild shares her childhood and who dreams of nothing so much as being a great warrior, but who carries his own secret without even knowing it and acts as on of the seers most constant anchors to the 'merely' human world. There are far too many to cover in detail, but I found all of the characters in the book, no matter how minor, interesting and well-rounded, from Cian’s hard-headed but loving mother Onnen, and even Begu the seemingly simple-minded though often perceptive childhood friend of Hild, to Paulinus the grasping and clever Christian Bishop seeking power and influence, and Edwin himself an often hard and harsh ruler, though not without intelligence and the perceptiveness to use a soft hand when he needs to.

So, Griffith has a deft hand with characters; how was the story? All I can say is that I felt fully immersed in the Anglo-Saxon world of 7th century Britain without being overwhelmed by the details. It is definitely true that Griffith peppers her book with many particulars about the daily life and manners of the time, but I for one never felt that these were misplaced or slowed down the story. Rather I felt that they were integrated quite naturally into the tale and helped to build the verisimilitude I want, and expect, when I visit a time and place not our own. (It is also possible that my own personal interest in, and knowledge of, the cultural milieu helped in this regard.) We thus follow Hild as she navigates the sometimes tumultuous world of Anglo-Saxon politics at a time when not only was Edwin trying to consolidate political power, but the new religion of Christianity was beginning to push out the old ways and gods and an added complexity of power and influence was brought into the mix. Amidst these ‘high matters’ Hild tries to grasp something purely human that can anchor her to the day-to-day world of her people; thus she does her best to nurture those friendships that can be formed for one marked out as a member of the political, and sometimes spiritual, elite.

Women are definitely front and centre in the novel and display their various strengths, and weaknesses, in all levels of society. For those to whom it matters Griffith is also something of an iconoclast, portraying her heroine, who would eventually become an abbess and saint, as a bi-sexual woman perhaps more pragmatic than she is spiritual, though she is not without a certain idealism. All in all this was a great read and I highly recommend it to lovers of historical fiction, especially of the Anglo-Saxon era.
Profile Image for C.L. Clark.
Author 19 books1,012 followers
July 31, 2021
I would like to write a book so beautiful as this. So careful, so observant, so inevitable as this. It makes everything else feel frantic in comparison. I look forward to the day I’m ready to reread it.
Profile Image for Melody.
2,623 reviews253 followers
July 25, 2013
Hild is a book I've been looking forward to with unalloyed anticipation, ever since Griffith mentioned it on her blog a long time ago. I was thrilled to get an early NetGalley copy to read. And then, for awhile, I was floundering. It's a huge story, populated with a great many characters, many of whom have similar names. Or if not similar, equally unfamiliar to the modern ear. There were a lot of words to puzzle out contextual meanings of (as the glossary in the e-Galley was too complicated to keep flipping back and forth to) and a lot of movements that would have been easier to visualize with a map. All of these things, I think, will be resolved in the final editions.

So I was slow to get into the meat of the story, but I've loved Griffith's past work so much I kept on. About 30% of the way through the book, I was hooked entirely. The characters came alive for me, and I was transported to early England. I could smell the fires (and worse) and the jessamine that Hild and the queen wear. I could hear the sounds of battle and of song.

I fell in love with Hild and with her time. I grew to care deeply about what seemed to me to be happening right now, but really happened hundreds and hundreds of years ago. There are priests of Woden, priests of Christ, alluring slave girls, brave warriors and braver seers. There's enough botanizing to keep me happy, and sumptuous descriptions of what there was to eat, washed down with mead and small beer. Griffith's prose can't be beat.

I can't wait for the book with maps and genealogy information. 4.5 stars for it as read with no maps, no family trees & a hard-to-access glossary. I will read it again, and no doubt love it more the second time through. I want to read the NEXT Hild book already.

My free review copy came from NetGalley.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,230 reviews1,002 followers
February 11, 2014
A truly excellent book.
I’ve read everything by Nicola Griffith, so I’ve been looking forward to this release with quite a lot of anticipation. I have to say, the book isn’t really what I expected. However, neither was it disappointing – not even close!
While Griffith’s previous work has been (excellent) science fiction and crime fiction, usually with a tense, quick-moving plot, ‘Hild’ is straight historical fiction. While there’s plenty of violence, the pace of the book is slow and deliberate, as we follow Hild as she grows from a precocious child to a remarkable young woman.
It’s a very ‘full’ narrative – as one person I was chatting with said; it’s rare to see such a ‘complete’ portrait of a woman. There’s a lot here – the book discusses religion, relationships, ethics, and shows people as they are, rejoicing and grieving, self-serving and self-sacrificing.
Reading the novel is an impressively immersive experience. Seventh-century Britain, here, comes to utterly convincing life. It’s clear that plenty of research went into the details of daily life, and, the characters living this life are complex, well-rounded, and believable. Always utterly human, while they are portrayed with all their flaws, you’ll miss them when the book eventually comes to a close.
However, Griffith is currently working on a sequel – so you won’t have to miss them forever. (I was glad to hear it, because I was particularly looking forward to seeing a portrayal of Whitby – St. Hilda was the founding abbess there, and I’ve visited quite a few times – but in this volume, her character hasn’t arrived there yet.)
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,826 reviews356 followers
January 12, 2015
"Hild is born into a world in transition. In seventh-century Britain, small kingdoms are merging, usually violently. A new religion is coming ashore; the old gods’ priests are worrying. Edwin of Northumbria plots to become overking of the Angles, ruthlessly using every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief."

If you are interested in historical fiction at all, read this book.

It is gorgeously written, set in Medieval England, covering the "history" of a powerful woman, St. Hilda of Whitby. There was very little factual information on Hild available in contemporary records, so the author immersed herself in the documents and research of the period and created this authentic-feeling back story for the saint.

Highly engaging and easy to immerse oneself in, extremely well written. The names of a number of characters are a bit challenging for those of us unfamiliar with Celtic and Old English pronunciation and there is a bit of Old English terminology to deal with, but neither of those factors impacted the pure enjoyment of a tale well told.

I understand there is a second book on the way and I have to say that it cannot come soon enough for me.

Profile Image for Tim Hicks.
1,470 reviews116 followers
September 29, 2014
Nebula Award nominee, and it's not really either SF or F.
Often frustrating, but still a masterful piece of work.

He sat down to write a review. His hand fell to the grip of his seax. He looked out at the late-spring trees, where the blossoming pogarups heralded a good beef crop and cheerful chickadicks with their "twee-twee" indicated a probable rise in barometric pressure over the next week, with impact on the Baltic shrimp harvest, which worried him because with all the boats out shrimping it would be hard to get jute to make carpets with her cousin Aerbreyk, daughter of Haertbyrn, a dark-complexioned girl with long eyelashes, which when she blinked them made him realize that her - Aerbreyk's - wyrd was to marry Aethleet, son of Reebok, in order to keep the Fraggles from allying with the Grorps to drive Pragmatix the Pict out of the meme wood and back across the wolds to the high moors where the thesauri roamed free.

This wasn't getting his review done. He stood up. He was even taller than he had been two pages ago, and was growing so fast that by the end of the review he'd be getting calls from the NBA, if it existed, and just then a beetle scuttled across the floor. A slight imperfection in its shell triggered a flash of insight, and - gripping his seax - he realized that his sons' sons' sons' sons' sons would indeed play in the Euro League, and someday one of them would be a second-round pick of the Pistons, whatever those were, so that someone in Britain ought to get working on inventing sneakers. He wondered how Hild would sell that to Edwin king.

He started typing. He mentioned Griffith's obviously deep research, her odd but fascinating characters - not least of which is Fursey, the Irish priest who would be right at home in a Flann O'Brien novel set in 1947.

Hild is smarter than the average bear, and learns everything with astonishing speed. She figures out what will happen and is never wrong. Made me think of Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss. Wasn't long before I wanted her to be wrong, and not much longer before I wanted her to be spectacularly wrong. But no. Except once, near the end, when after 187 straight she botches one that Which is odd, because the rest of us sure saw it coming about 600 pages earlier.

The reviewer took a break. It was bedtime, but he couldn't sleep, so he went outside, sat on a grassy bank, and - still in Griffith mode - exhaustively enumerated every species of plant and animal that would be in that area at that season, then provided a lengthy explanation of what the local people would make that season, what they would make it from, and how they would manage their farms and smithies and dairies. He didn't sleep. Heroic characters rarely sleep or eat.

Returning to his desk, seax on his hip, the very tall reviewer - taller than he was two paragraphs ago, what a marvel - decided to read some more of the book he was reviewing, and picked up a detailed account of the displacement of the pagan religions by the greedy, stone-obsessed Christian bishops. Amazingly still awake, he read on, through a quite-interesting thread throughout the book about women behind the scenes manipulating their men into doing the right thing.

Not to mention quite a few scenes of women manipulating other women, ahem, while the men were off drinking and fighting. Well handled, but if you don't like that sort of thing you have been warned.

But still. Many of the characters actually lived, and in general the politics and fighting happened more or less as described, and we get a good look at how people at various levels made their way in society.

If you liked Connie Willis's Doomsday Book you'll probably like this. Just don't look for spaceships or time travel or enchanted swords.

If you don't have some background in British history AND a big vocabulary, get a good dictionary and keep it at hand as you read. There's a short glossary but it covers maybe a twentieth of the old words that appear here.

Will I read books 2 & 3? I really don't know. I may be too tall by then, and I may have outgrown my seax.

But this one? I think maybe you should read it, and even if you don't like it much, just keep reading because it grows on you a bit and you will certainly learn a whole bunch.
Profile Image for Athena.
240 reviews40 followers
May 5, 2016
2-3 stars for historians, professional or avocational
4 stars for everyone else
I read this a few years ago so very briefly the things that stuck with me:
- It's a terrific book, I enjoyed it but left it not wanting to read the next one or possibly anything else Griffith had written.
- Griffith did massive research on the era and that's what lodged in my head after a few pages, stayed there and lingered. This is a very dense read, I kept feeling that I should be organizing my note cards for it, something I did when writing history essays lo those many years ago. Enough is maybe too much in this case.
- Hild is a young, female, Dark Ages Sherlock Holmes. I did care about her & about the story enough to finish & enjoy the book but once done I had no desire to continue following Hild in the next book. 'Hild Holmes' lacks the élan of the actual Holmes and isn't nearly as believable in her setting. She's interesting but not enough to continue following the books.
- What annoyed me: Gemaecce, a social norm the author invented by manipulating the actual Anglo Saxon word gemæcca (mate, equal, comrade, husband or wife) into a major plot support. Griffith's gemaecce becomes a sort of female partner/workmate. Ok, fun with history, BUT she's writing historical fiction, not alternate reality (aka, keep your pants in your own genre). How to irritate historians, part 1: make things up. Was it necessary to the book? I don't think so. Does it fit with current trends in 21st century culture: you betcha it does. A good editor would have reined her back on this.

Cranky old lady, signing out ...
Profile Image for Dawn.
1,247 reviews74 followers
October 14, 2014
This is a beautiful, meandering story of the imagined childhood of Saint Hild of Whitby.

Set in a time when Christianity was replacing the old Pagan religions with the help of the political machinations of the British royalty, the pace of the story lets you get immersed in the life and times of the powerful of 8th century Britain.

I loved this story. The characters were fascinating, even those with small parts to play are not left to be cardboard cutouts but are given life and personality. The setting was portrayed and described with enough definition to engross but not bore and the writing was stunning. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 113 books708 followers
December 24, 2013
This is a magnificent book. I have a habit of sometimes reading to finish a book, rather than reading to experience it. I lived this novel, the grit and the grime as well as the glamour. It is a lush imagining, an act of deft, from-the-ground-up worldbuilding. I love how everyone has things to do, whether they are men, women, nobles, farmhands: there are herbs to collect, sheep to shear, cows to be milked, people to be healed, cloths to be woven. I love that the women have purpose and agency, and that every single character has wants and needs of his or her own. And Hild herself develops so organically from bright, observant child into larger-than-life seer. Some of the names get a little confusing at times, and I was grateful for the genealogy at the beginning, but it didn't matter when I was swept up in it. Magnificent.
Profile Image for Mauoijenn.
1,127 reviews107 followers
December 10, 2014
I'm gonna be honest... I normally don't read to many of these books that fit into the historical fiction genre. Its just usually not my thing unless something grabs my attention in the story line. What grabbed me with this one, you ask? THE COVER!!

I mean look at it. Its gorgeous. A nice teal/turquoise blue and that picture of Hild on the front, very nice indeed. Now this is a nice fat chunky book, but I gotta say I was very impressed. It kind of took me a chapter or two to get into the story but I stuck with it and I'm glad I did. The maps were a good touch as other stuff in this book.

Its beautifully written, holds your attention, gripping scenes and a brief look into whatwhat it might have been for Hild back in 614 AD. Beautiful book, I'm most definitely checking out the next book in the series when it comes out.
Profile Image for Sharman Russell.
Author 22 books245 followers
June 6, 2015
A description of the main character Hild worrying about all she has to worry about--which is quite a bit: "On and on...like a cat licking her mind." Writing like this made me really love this book. It's a tour de force of seventh century Anglo-Saxon England, and you don't find too many of those. This is a gift to the reading world. Yes, okay, sometimes I found myself skimming just a bit (I do that, a bad habit, and this is a long book) and I also didn't always bother keeping track of all the names of the minor characters. I just let myself flow on the general gestalt and the drama and intrigue, with the focus always being Hild--a wonderful child and then a wonderful warrior woman. You don't just admire Hild. You really like her.
Profile Image for Ann-Marie "Cookie M.".
1,072 reviews121 followers
January 6, 2020
I so did not want this book to end. Even though I knew it was completely made up, with hardly a morsel of truth in it, I adored it.
"Hild" is Nicola Griffiths imagining of the first part of the life of St. Hilda, a Seventh Century convert to Christianity and an early saint. She was said to have been King Edwin's seer, and in Griffith's telling, she is a precocious, gifted observer of people and extremely talented at pattern recognition, which would go a long way toward explaining her gifts.
I am a neuro- diverse individual with a pattern recognition bent, and it can be a little disconcerting when something you "predict" actually unfolds exactly as you saw it coming.
This book is supposed to start a trilogy, but I don't know if the other two have ever been written.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,595 reviews1,662 followers
February 9, 2017
Was sort of uninterested in this book, until I read this blog post by the author. Boom! Sudden interest, give it to me now. And I’m really glad I picked it up. My experience with Hild is the textbook example of why it’s a good idea to read outside your normal genres every once in a while. I don’t read very much historical fiction, and those I do read are usually the ones that have some sort of unusual hook, like TWO SOLDIERS IN WWII RUSSIA LOOK FOR A DOZEN EGGS FOR A WEDDING CAKE! (City of Thieves) or WOMAN TIME TRAVELS TO SCOTLAND AND HAS LOTS OF SEX! (Outlander). In comparison, Hild is rather tame, and MUCH more in depth.

Hild is Nicola Griffith’s examination of the early years of St. Hilda of Whitby, about whom almost nothing is known, except that she was probably one of the most influential women who ever lived. (Really, you should click that link at the top — it’s very interesting.) Griffith became obsessed with St. Hilda after visiting the ruined abbey where St. Hilda once lived, did a shit-ton of research into the middle ages and how women lived, and then decided to write this book. And her decision to not ignore the realities of women’s lives back then, which mostly featured around raising children and weaving, was a brave one. I mean, women did nothing back then, how could a book like that possibly be interesting?

It helps that our protagonist is not just any woman, but the niece of the King, and daughter of the man who should have been king, had he not been poisoned. And that Hild’s mother prophesied before she was even born that she would be “the light of the world,” a prophecy that her mother works hard to make come true, and which Hild herself fulfills not by any mystical means, but by being observant and clever and using common sense. She becomes the King’s seer, predicting events and advising him before she even has her first period. She is instrumental, in Griffith’s version of the story, in shaping her world even as young as the age of seven.

The book follows her from the age of three, when she learns her father has died and has to immediately seek the succor of his brother (who probably was the one who had him killed) for protection, all the while fearing he might see them as a threat. Due to her precarious position, she also seeks to learn how to defend herself with the help of her half-brother Cian (a character Griffith created), a gesith (knight) in the King’s court. Cian’s position is similarly precarious. He believes he is the bastard son of one king, Ceredig, a lie his mother and Hild’s mother let him believe to protect him. If Edwin King knew Cian was really the son of his late brother, he would likely see him as a threat and have him killed. As a result, Cian and Hild’s relationship becomes rather complicated. Anyway, he teaches her to wield a staff, and to properly fight with her seax (a gift from another King), because it was expressly forbidden for women to learn to fight with a sword. So Hild held a position few men, let alone women, ever held: king’s advisor, seer, warrior, landowner, with the freedom to speak as she pleased to men of authority.

God, there’s so much in this book I still want to talk about. How Griffith treats class, and the intermingling of the different races (Wealh (British), Anglo-Saxon, Franks, etc.). How Hild, a speaker of multiple languages, acts as a bridge for all these different peoples. How the whole book is a sneaky exploration of how the coming of Christianity to Britain changed the political and cultural landscape. The way she treats gender and sexuality (which was much more fluid back then, before the coming of Christianity). How she works all of this subtly into a book-long metaphor about women and weaving and family and friendship, and knitting things together. UGH SO GOOD.

This is a long book, but it’s worth it for the feeling you have almost immediately that you’re the one who’s time-traveled, back to the 7th century in England, before England was even a thing. It’s almost unbelievable how Nicola Griffith is able to create such an intense, detailed world inhabited by real people out of the bare scraps of historical record, but then again, I suppose a science fiction author is inherently suited to this kind of work — worldbuilding is kind of in the job description. This time, the world she’s created just so happens to have once been real. This book probably isn’t for readers who demand lots of fast-paced action and plot. It’s a leisurely one that demands you pay attention to it, that you bask in the words and the atmosphere they create, that you linger over them with your thoughts. That you spend actual time with these characters, and get to know and love them. If you’re not a reader who can put that much mental effort into reading, don’t bother with this one. And please, if you do, don’t blame the book if you have a bad experience.

Griffith’s afterword makes it clear she’s not done with Hild’s story, and she’s currently working on a sequel that will take us into Hild’s adult life, where she will have to do much less guesswork, as Hild’s life from that point is part of the historical record.

Make sure to check out these reviews also, because as always with books that I really love, my own words feel inadequate:
NPR Review
Vulpes Libris Review
Profile Image for Rachel (Kalanadi).
718 reviews1,397 followers
July 21, 2016

Hild is the first in a trilogy that explores the story of Hild, or St. Hilda of Whitby. Little is known about St. Hilda; she was the founding abbess of Whitby monastery in ancient Britain, in the 7th century, where the Synod of Whitby was held. Most of what we know about the real Hild is from the Venerable Bede who provides a relatively contemporary depiction of her as an already mature and powerful woman at the time of the Synod. So, Nicola Griffith is writing a series, of which Hild is the first, that explains how this unusual woman could have become an advisor to kings.

The book opens when Hild is 4 years old. Her father, King Edwin's nephew, has been poisoned in exile. Her mother takes Hild and her older sister, her bodywoman and her bodywoman's son Cian to live in the court of King Edwin, where Hild grows up. A twist is that Cian is actually Hild's half-brother — they share the same father, a fact that Hild's family attempts to keep secret from King Edwin. Throughout the book, Hild is told by her mother that she is "the light of the world" — she is special, and she will be the king's seer. We see Hild's personality and ambitions take shape. But the book ends when Hild is probably in her mid-teens. The second book Menewood is in progress (according to what I've seen on Griffith's blog), but not coming out anytime soon.

Hild challenged me in a number of ways. It is speculative historical fiction that aims to be vividly historically accurate in many details, but incorporates fictional worldbuilding. In addition, it is intended to speculate the steps that led to one woman's destiny; a woman whom very, very little is actually known about. I can see why some people view Hild as SFF or speculative fiction, but also why people (like me) who usually read hard SF or high, magical fantasy would view this as being on the merest fringes of SFF.

The most intriguing question I pondered while reading Hild was "is Hild a self-fulfilling prophecy?" She's been told since she was born that she is special, 'the light of the world', who will be a seer. But she's not actually prophetic. She observes closely, she's insightful, she makes connections, she just happens to be in the right place at the right time to gather information other people don't have — and then use that to her advantage. She is smart. And certainly her temperament, her personality, her desires are unusual. But would she be this way if she wasn't constantly being told she was different? She pulls away from people, and they push her away, because of what they think they know to be true about her. What makes us who we are? What shapes our destinies?

Some of the best moments are when Hild acts against gender roles, such as leading a band of warriors to track down and kill bandits. She's a woman who kills! Men and women are both deeply uncomfortable around her because she doesn't behave like either, an unease that Hild can use to gain power, but which also alienates her further from her community.

The details are slowly, ponderously, thoughtfully built up in the book about how people live. How men behave, how women behave, the endless back-breaking work they do to survive. The cycle of life and war. But a lot of it is what WOMEN are doing – what they do in the home, in the fields, in the work sheds, and how they manipulate the "warp and weft" of family and political alliances. The details should be fascinating, but ultimately fell flat for me most of the time. Why? Because Hild doesn't know or see some of these things. In particular, she is not privy to her mother’s schemes and interests, which is the dominant force that begins the story and puts Hild on the stage where SHE can begin to influence the world too.

So while Hild is built up out of fine layers, studded with names and places, it's also slow — almost dangerously slow, as it loses momentum in little fits and starts, dipping into boring stretches or just another battle. And it's quite confusing. There's so much going on in the background that isn't explained - just peppered into dialogue with mentions of kings and overkings and heirs and who's allying with whom. The world outside of Hild's immediate concern is very hazy.

I also have one small quibble: It bothers me that nowhere in the actual physical book is it mentioned that Griffith invented the concept of "gemæcce". It's the only major feature of the ancient Britain and Hild's world that Griffith wholly invented. To her credit, of course, it feels very natural and organic and it meshes so believably with all the other elements of this time and culture. However, the term "gemæcce" is presented alongside all other actual terms and their pronunciations as if it is real. I actually thought it was a real thing, until I happened to read a review that pointed out it wasn't, and then I discovered Griffith had a website that explained this. I'm not upset at all that Griffith invented the concept, because it works, but... please acknowledge to the reader who knows nothing about this time that this is a fictional element in the historical fiction. And it doesn't help matters that Griffith points out how intensely researched and detailed this book is, which boosts the perception that "gemæcce" was a real thing... Anyway, minor quibble. Much more likely to irritate people who demand 100% historical accuracy in their historical fiction.

Hild was an interesting read, though too slow and drenched in details for my taste. I will certainly pick up the sequel to know more, since I now feel invested in Hild's life and badly want to know what will happen next after the final event in Hild.

Profile Image for Lauren Stoolfire.
3,456 reviews258 followers
June 9, 2020
Hold by Nicola Griffith is an absolute must read for those interested in immersive historical fiction based on real life figures with fantastic world building. If you enjoyed Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel or medieval fantasy. I'm so glad that family trees and a pronunciation guide are included. I'm also glad that my meager Welsh language studies on Duolingo somewhat prepared me for some of the language and words used in this novel. I bet it would be a real treat to hear this on audiobook.
Profile Image for G.G..
Author 5 books112 followers
December 29, 2017
One reason we read is to be transported to another mind, place, time. At its best, Hild is completely transporting. Griffith excels at descriptions of the natural world:
As the mist began to dissolve she could see the dark, wet beach. Long-legged birds speared shellfish, and women with sacks collected coal and driftwood, dodging the surf that ran up over the sand like the froth in a milkmaid’s pail. The sky showed as blue as twice-dyed linen. The sea was restless, glinting like napped flint. It, too, would turn blue if the sky stayed clear. (p. 83)

An owl, noiseless as a feathered cloud, glided away in the moonlight, a songbird in its left foot. (p. 306)
For me, these were the most convincing moments in the novel. One feels that the author has seen what she describes and found exactly the right words to convey that experience in language.

The moment Hild first hears Christian music and is converted (or so I understood) to the new religion is also brilliantly evoked:
The music, when it came, with a rush, a gush of voice seeking its note, ripped away her indifference and tore through her as sudden and shocking as snowmelt.
She forgot the floor. Forgot the queen. She felt hot, then cold, then nothing at all, like a bubble rising through water, then floating, then lifting free.
It was cool music, inhuman, the song stars might sing. Endless, pouring, pure. Were it water, it would turn any bird that drank it white. (p. 198)
My ignorance of seventh-century Britain is total—first there was Egypt, then Greece, then Rome; after the Romans left Britain there was the Norman Conquest; I don’t remember learning anything more than that the era of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes came in between. Griffith’s imaginative inhabiting of this period is another aspect of the novel that convinces. The court shifting from place to place, following the seasons; the three-day gales, during which men "pissed in corners...vomited and came back for more mead" (p. 307); the winter hunger (“teeth loosened, belts tightened, tempers frayed” p. 317). Here is her description of some of the work women did:
It was a constant, endless river of work just to make the clothes for a household—cloaks and tunics, shirts and hose, veils and dresses and underdresses and hoods and caps—in addition to blankets, wall hangings, bandages, sacks, saddle cloths, wipes, shrouds, breech cloths. And now [Hild’s mother] Breguswith wanted enough fine wool…to weave cloaks of the size, quality, and quantity to trade for precious goods from the Franks: jessamine, myrrh, poppy paste, garnets, gold, walnut and olive oil, silk. (pp. 383-84)
Enjoined to have a “quiet mouth, bright mind,” such are Hild’s powers of observation—of both the natural world, and the human—that she understands what others do not, and thus is valued as a seer. She must watch out for “rivalry, the disease of kings,” “righteous anger, the disease of bishops,” and “the stink of fear, the disease of seers.” (p. 340)

The only aspect of the novel that did not ring true for me was Hild’s desire for her childhood playmate and half-brother Cian (an invented, not an historical character.) My sense is that sexual attraction requires strangeness, and that it is impossible for people who played together like fox kittens as children to feel desire for one another after they grow up. But the jury still seems to be out on this, the so-called “Westermarck effect” (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westerm...), so perhaps I am wrong. And of course Hild is a novel, not an anthropological treatise, and the author is entitled to fictionalize as she sees fit.

I certainly look forward to reading the next volume in Griffith’s planned trilogy about how Hild, who grows to young womanhood in this novel, eventually becomes Saint Hilda of Whitby.
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404 reviews165 followers
November 15, 2013
Many other reviews of Nicola Griffith’s stunning new novel Hild will be written by people who have a much deeper understanding of its historical period, its main character, and the author’s previous works. Sadly, I am a blank slate when it comes to all three: prior to reading Hild, I had very little knowledge of Seventh Century England or St. Hilda of Whitby, and (to my great shame) Hild is the first novel I’ve read by Griffith.

I’m starting this review with that information because I believe many other genre readers will be in the same position and may, like me, be a bit intimidated by the idea of a historical novel in an unfamiliar setting about a character they only vaguely know.

If that describes you and you’re on the fence, dear reader, I am here to tell you: don’t hesitate. Read this book. It is wonderful and your life will be the richer for it.

Read the entire review on my site Far Beyond Reality!
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