Also known as Hilda of Whitby; she’s the protagonist of Hild, by Nicola Griffith, which I just read and enjoyed hugely. Only I didn’t know Hild was Hilda while I was reading it.

What happened was, Charlie Stross had Ms Griffith on as a guest-blogger, and she posted Who Owns SF? which led me to an impulse buy.

It’s an odd, long, first-person book, with a different sort of rhythm. I was going to write “not much happens” but since it’s full of religion and sex and politics and war and commerce that would be crazy. What I think I mean is, you spend the whole book inside Hild’s head and she doesn’t change much as the years and battles and faiths and lovers pass.

The picture she paints of life in the entourage of Edwin of Northumbria, a seventh-century North-British warlord conventionally referred to as King, is totally full of flavor and surprises; my faves were the slave market, and how a high priest of Wōden stays in the game when all of a sudden the Jesus faction is winning. More on that: I’ve never really understood how Christendom triumphed in the West, and here we have an extreme-closeup view on a really plausible narrative.

Well, and the sex. With which the lesbian Ms Griffith exhibits a fine, light, subtly-textured hand. “Wait,” you say, “Hilda was a famous abbess, and they don’t have sex!” Except for, she joined the monastic life (starting at the top, never a mere nun) in mid-life, and this is about her youth.

Genre? · While Hild may have been nominated for major SF awards, this is a Historical Novel. I was raised on this stuff; among others Renault’s Greeks, Stewart’s Merlin, and even Thomas B. Costain (except for his nonfiction about the Plantagenets is way better than his novels). Hey, in researching this I learned that Renault was gay too; if Lesbian Historical Novels is a category, I’m a fan.

The funny thing is, I dived into Hild not realizing it was Historical, until I ran into the glossary and other apparatus at the end. Which doesn’t include a link to Griffith’s own excellent All about Hild; go read it, along with a whole bunch of other stuff about her and Edwin and the rest, after you’ve soaked this one up.

A tip of the hat to her erudition too; I’m not uninformed about this period of history and got all snippy about the role she gives the Picts whom I’d thought had faded away by the seventh century, only I checked; she was right and I was wrong.

Languages · Dark-ages Britain had lots, and I just totally loved Griffith’s active use of them to help with the storytelling; she calls them “British” and “Anglisc” and “Irish”; oh and Latin creeps in later on. Because languages are characters in stories, even ones that they aren’t told in; how could that not be true?

More coming · Yep, this is going to be a trilogy. I’ll buy the next one the day it comes out.


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