Julie’s Book Club: Hild

Hild by Nicola GriffithHild cover

Hild was my Christmas gift to myself. (Ok, not my only gift to myself, but perhaps the best one.) I’d like to say I finished it in a rush after two sleepless nights, but travel over the holidays and the return to work means I’m still trucking through it. However, I didn’t want to wait to gush about it until next month, so here goes:

I feel like Nicola Griffith’s novel is set in one of the most finely crafted fantasy worlds I’ve ever encountered. The characters, even those who are only at the edges of the scenes, are drawn with great depth. The imagery of the costuming is stunning. The action, from bloody skirmishes on a riverbank to the killing of a piglet in a marketplace, is created on the page as vividly as it would appear on a video screen. But Hild isn’t a fantasy. It’s set in seventh-century Britain, amidst the growth of Christianity and the annexation of kingdoms by Edwin of Northumbria.

Hild, the king’s youngest niece, is growing up in a world filled with uncertainty and political intrigue. As she learns her way around the court, the child, prophesied to be “the light of the world,” makes herself indispensable to the king as his seer. Hild is not a typical child, nor is she a typical woman for the period, and as she learns more about the players and kingdoms at stake, she is more deeply drawn into the plots that determine the course of Edwin’s conquests. She must stay constantly alert to protect herself and her loved ones, to remain in the king’s good graces, and to follow her wyrd.

As I mentioned, I’m entranced by this book. The scenes of daily life, like tapestry weaving and jewelry making, set it solidly in its time, and the conversations and characters make the seventh century feel raw and real. A tremendous amount of research must have gone into this novel, as well as a tremendous amount of imagination. Little is known about St. Hilda of Whitby, upon whom Hild is based, but Griffith nevertheless gives us her life from the age of three in immersive detail.

Get Hild here (or at your local bookstore)!

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Julie’s Book Club: 12 for the New Year

I’m cheating a little this time and instead of reviewing a book (the book I ordered has not found its way to me yet…) I am going to look ahead at 12 books I hope to read in the New Year:

1)      Hild: A Novel by Nicola Griffith

This historical novel is about Hild, the niece of the King of Britain who grows into a powerful figure–and eventually is sainted Hilda of Whitby. I’ve loved Griffith’s fluid prose since I happened upon her novel Slow River years ago. I can’t wait to see what she does in a historical setting–7th Century Britain.

2)      Embassytown by China Miéville

A friend suggested I read Miéville for his immersive worlds. I chose this book, about the human colonist Avice Benner Cho, who returns to Embassytown after years of adventuring in deep space. Homecoming stories interest me, and especially those that touch upon the possibilities of great shifts in space and time between one’s leaving and one’s return.

3)      The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This is on my Christmas list. I started reading The Sandman comics in high school, and I’ve been hooked on Gaiman since. This novel, about a businessman who returns home and delves into childhood memories best left undisturbed, promises to be dark and dreamlike. I can’t wait to see how the three Fate-like women, who live in the house at the end of the lane, are drawn and what their roles are.

4)      The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Water horses. A girl named Puck. Horse races. Fate. Even if not for Jen’s endorsement of Stiefvater, I’d probably still pluck this book off the shelf.

5)      The Ward by Jordana Frankel

This is Frankel’s YA debut, a dystopian novel about New York after floods, plagues, high-stakes hover racing, and friendship. I got to meet Frankel and hear about the book while it was still being edited, and I want to know how it ends!

6)      Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

This novel has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. (Anyone else have that curse where they buy books and don’t read them, but borrow them and finish them in a day?) I loved and was disturbed by The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin, and The Year of the Flood, so I don’t know what I’m waiting for. 2014, perhaps?

7)      Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke

This is another of those books that has been recommended time and again. Like The Prestige, it is about two magicians, and it works in slow reveals. I’ll want to be taking notes on suspense and plot the entire time, if I can keep that up through 1,000-plus pages.

8)      Zig-Zag Wanderer by Madison Smartt Bell

Bell’s limited edition short story collection will be distributed for free (with the request that readers make a donation to a worthy cause), and I hope to catch him reading at The Ivy bookshop in Baltimore next week. The stories, set in the U.S., Haiti, and other places, are mostly named after songs (REM’s “Fall on Me” is among them) and some include musical elements themselves. Bell’s work often goes to dark and strange places–count me in.

9)      The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Because Anne said so.

10)  The Harry Potter audiobooks

This might be wishful thinking, but one of these days I’d like to listen to all of the audiobooks, as performed by Jim Dale.

11)  The Bondwoman’s Narrative: A Novel by Hannah Crafts

Written in the 1850s, this may be the first novel penned by a female African American slave. Crafts, a mulatto, writes about the autobiographical experiences of “passing” and making her way to freedom. Her unpublished manuscript was discovered in 2001 by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

12)  Looking for Alaska by John Green

After thoroughly enjoying Will Grayson, Will Grayson and tearing up at The Fault in Our Stars, I’m ready for another John Green novel. His YA protagonists are strongly voiced, and their struggles are both uniquely their own and universal. He draws the high school out crowd in a completely new way, and the lessons they learn are just as applicable to adults picking up these books.

So, that’s my list. Is there anything you would recommend? Have any thoughts about something I’ve added? Leave them in the comments!