Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review: Hild by Nicola Griffith

Received ARC from publisher via NetGalley.
Release date: November 12, 2013

A novel of the early life of Hilda of Whitby, Christian saint, founding abbess of the monastery of Whitby, and niece of King Edwin of Northumbria.

What attracted me to this novel was the fact that it’s written about a rather obscure time period. I love novels that introduce me to a lesser known part of history and make it feel more familiar to me. And when I open a book set in Anglo-Saxon England, I want it to feel distinctly different from the more stereotypical idea we have of the medieval world, which is usually of the high to late middle ages. It should reflect that this is pre-Norman Conquest.

Griffith did not let me down in this regard. Her narrative and historical knowledge made the period feel completely different from our own, to the point where she may have actually gone a little too far and so I had really mixed feelings about this book. Griffith does not spend a lot of time overtly explaining who’s who or what’s what - a lot of the history has to be worked out by the reader as the story progresses. Equally, there are a lot of Anglo-Saxon words that many readers may not be familiar with and though sometimes the context gives you a vague idea of what it means, if you want to know more, you’ll have to check the glossary or google it. On one hand, I can appreciate this because often, an obvious explanation can feel too much like an anachronistic narrative. However, taking this too far can make it too difficult to read and sometimes I felt like I was spending more time googling Old English words than reading the book (because the glossary was difficult to access in the ebook ARC - additionally, not every Old English word is included in the glossary!). I especially found it unnecessary when the word has a known modern equivalent - such as the use of “├Žlf” when “elf”, “fairy” or “nymph” could have just as easily been used. When the author was describing an Anglo-Saxon concept that does not have a modern name, it’s more understandable - but using Old English words when it’s completely unnecessary just came across as the author showing off or trying too hard to prove herself by throwing in so many words most readers won’t know.

Scene descriptions were very detailed which many people will love but for me, that made it drag a bit at times. Yes, a certain amount of scene setting and world building is necessary but there is such thing as too much of a good thing. I can enjoy a slow paced novel but this just dragged in too many places.

The characters and their interactions were the best part of this novel for me but it just got bogged down by these other things.

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