For real, if I’d known this novel would be the first in a series, I wouldn’t have bothered reading it till the rest came out. As it is, the book ends well before the… oh jeez, how to explain without spoilers? I know this is all based on what might as well be ancient history, but I made the mistake of looking up Saint Hilda (whom I have a passing familiarity with due to past research on Whitby) on Wikipedia, and was disappointed in myself for finding out what happens next. Would hate to do the same to you, dear reader.
Anyway, the book itself is incredibly dense with historical details that are woven in as neatly as one of Hild’s patterns so that they don’t get too far in the way of the narrative. I admit to being a little annoyed with the narrative tho, as there’s just a little too much that Nicola Griffith assumes we’ll figure out on our own: fine for historical details (hello, Wiki!) but annoying for plot. The book also suffers from the casual introduction of characters who only become relevant pages later, causing me to have to skip back to find out who this or that person is (oh, a random person mentioned in passing in a minor noble’s hall, of course I’d remember him :/.) It’s almost as if the author forgot that we’re not all experts on Medieval England, so wrapped up does she get in the details.
That aside, I really did enjoy the tale of a young girl’s coming of age in the most harrowing of circumstances. Her ambitious mother pushes her into a dangerous position at the hand of a paranoid king — literally dangerous considering that, by the age of 11, she has PTSD from being in battle. Then there are the frank discussions of love and sex and politics and religion. I teared up whenever Hild had to confront the aching loneliness of her position. All terrific material, handled really well (the issues I mentioned previously excepting, of course) if possibly blasphemously. The cover still kinda weirds me out with the way it suggests that this is a book for Young Adults instead of Adults, tho. This is a book about a young girl growing up, but is definitely a book for the mature.