A historical novel of early medieval England to do T.H. White proud, based on the real life of the “Anglisc” girl who would become Saint Hilda of Whitby.
Of Hilda’s—Hild’s—life not much is known, save that she was an adept administrator and intellectually tough-minded champion of Christianity in the first years of its arrival in Britain. The lacuna affords Griffith (Stay, 2002, etc.) the opportunity to put her well-informed imagination to work while staying true to the historical details, over which she lingers with a born antiquarian’s love for the past. Griffith’s attention to those details is refreshing and welcome, for the Dark-Age time of Hild is a confusing welter of battling Angles, Celts, Picts and even a few holdover Romanized Britons, of contending lords and would-be lords; Griffith’s narrative may be densely woven, but she provides clues and context enough for readers to keep the story and its players straight in their minds. “Straight” is perhaps not the best operative word, though, for Griffith does manage to get in a few scenes in which our saint-to-be finds herself on the verge of doing Very Naughty Things to and with her “bodyman”: “She ached. She felt so alone. She wanted to feel Gwladus respond, rise under her, strong and fierce. Hers.” No wonder those British huts, as Griffith writes early on, were always hot. In all events, Griffith does admirable work in imagining and populating the ancient British world and all its to-us exotic customs, its deep learning, its devotion to magic and prophesy—and Hild is a master thereof, from ferreting out plots against the crown to determining from a taste of mead that secret deals are being cut with the nasty Franks.
A book that deserves a place alongside T.H. White, to say nothing of Ellis Peters. Elegantly written—and with room for a sequel.