Hild by Nicola Griffith

Mar 17, 2014 15:31

Hild is the second daughter of a dead king, but her mother dreamed that Hild will be the Light of the World, and is determined to make her dream come true.

Half the book takes place before Hild is old enough to wear a veil band and girdle, which means she's never gotten her period. She is a little, little kid with a big, big brain.

It is seriously weird reading about an England which is a bunch of warring kingdoms. Britons and Picts and Jutes, oh my! Luckily there is a map in the beginning, so the reader can see which part of Olde Angle-land Hild is living in that month.

There's also a family tree, which helps a lot. A complete list of characters would have helped more, because Hild met people up and down the coast of /E/n/g/l/a/n/d/ Angle-land and Saxon land, and had to keep track of hte kings, princes, and usurpers all over the rest of the land, including Dal Rialta (Ireland) and Frankia.

It's like a surround sound movie, with complete sensory details. Held (and therefore the reader) hears the wind in the trees, and a variety of bird calls. Hild/we smell bed baking, wet dogs, and other, more subtle, scents. Hild/we taste the difference between beer or wine, and between different berries, and food from this village or that village.

Hild watches the dogs stretch after waking up, and decides to stretch also - shift hips to stretch each leg right through to the shoulder. Later, the king says she can have what she wants if she carries a super-heavy cup of wine AND a super heavy golden arm ring, all around the long table, without spilling a drop. Hild is about five years old, and can't possibly get her hands/arms around everything, let alone carry it. Then she remembers the long stretch through her back, stands tall, and announces she will carry the ring like a princess, on her head. Her whole spine takes the weight of the arm-ring, and she wins.

Hild is a seer, and indeed she sees. She may not have visions of the future, but she sees the birds flying to and from their nests, she sees that putting a stick in water makes it look broken, and... she sees that weasels attack baby birds when the parents are out hunting for food. And a boatload of enemy soldiers that no one can see because they don't show up where the defending soldiers are waiting... No one can see them,but Hild dreams of weasels attacking the unprotected nest. Ah hah! A vision! The enemy is attacking he women and children at home, while the "parents" are away!

Hild figured this out when she was maybe nine or eleven - it's hard to keep track of her age as seasons pass in the book.

Non-spoilery points of interest:

The most interesting thing about this book is Hild's mother Breguswith. She's the widow of a prince who would be king, and by rights she should relegated to the dust-heap of history together with her two daughters. Instead, she worked hard to make her warriors look wealthy, so kings would take her seriously, and studied her local political situation to figure out which kings she wanted to impress. She brought her weave-sister (yeMATCHee or some unpronounceable word like that) with her everywhere to help weave rich-looking clothes and help take care of their children while Breguswith spoke to kings.
Breguswith soon works her way into the overking's confidence - and works really hard for her daughter to be acknowledged as a seer.

It is also interesting to see attention paid to people who don't carry swords, ie women. Weaving is a lot of work, and women in weaving huts can plot for power as much as men in their eating halls. Women's work is acknowledged as important, not just something that happens while men are off killing each other. "Women build, men destroy," and women can bring greater wealth than spoils of war. Although great wealth attracts great piracy, so we're back to needing the warriors. On the other hand, you don't want your warriors riding off to battle with bare arses hanging out (talk about jock itch!), and no straps to hold their swords around their shoulders.

Female friendships are important, and acknowledged as much as male friendships. And a seer has a hard time forming friendships, since she's this scary witch who can READ YOUR MIND... So when Hild finds a a friend, she tends to cling. And when they have a falling out, she gets really upset.

Hild never wears armor. Warriors around her wear armor, but not chain mail. She's very strong, because she hangs out with her foster brother since she's two and plays 'this stick is a sword' games and climbs a lot of trees.
Hild never wields a sword, though she has a 'slaughter knife.' Eventually, she decides she wants a real weapon, but not a sword becuase that's men's gear. Instead, she thinks about what a woman might use to defend herself, and decides that *spoiler spoiler spoiler.* Then she practices with her foster brother until she's really, really good at it.

genre: historical fiction, author: g, review

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