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Nicola Griffith

‘You are a prophet and seer with the brightest mind in an age. Your blood is that of the man who should have been king …That’s what the king and his lords see. And they will kill you, one day’

Britain in the seventh century - and the world is changing. Small kingdoms are merging, frequently and violently. Edwin, King of Northumbria, plots his rise to overking of all the Angles. Ruthless and unforgiving, he is prepared to use every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief.

Into this brutal, vibrant court steps Hild - Edwin’s youngest niece. With her glittering mind and powerful curiosity, Hild has a unique way of reading the world. By studying nature, observing human behavior and matching cause with effect, she has developed the ability to make startlingly accurate predictions. It is a gift that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her. It is also a valuable weapon. Hild is indispensable to Edwin - unless she should ever lead him astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, for her family, for her loved ones, and for the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can see the future and lead men like a warrior.

In this vivid, utterly compelling novel, Nicola Griffith has brought the Early Middle Ages to life in an extraordinary act of alchemy. Drawn from the story of St Hilda of Whitby - one of the most fascinating and pivotal figures of the age - Hild transports the reader into a mesmerising, unforgettable world.


We open on three-year-old Hild, lying, ear to the ground, absorbing the cadence of her world: birds, trees, earth. She is disturbed, though not frightened, by the arrival of her mother’s lady with the news her father, a would-be king, is dead. After all, ‘She was three. She had her own shoes.’

So begins Nicola Griffith’s sixth novel, Hild, based on an entry in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, about St Hilda of Whitby who lived from 614 to 680 AD and helped convert the English peoples to Christianity.

In Hild, Griffith creates an entry point to a Britain of the Dark Ages, one that has never been so vivid, so bright, so bustling with life and complexity. We are as immersed as Hild is in this polyglot land in a state of flux: ‘… their Anglisc voices: words drumming like apples spilt over wooden boards, round, rich stirring … utterly unlike … otter swift British or the dark liquid gleam of Irish. Hild spoke each to each. Apples to apples, otter to otter, gleam to gleam, though only when her mother wasn’t there.’

We travel with Hild in the retinue of King Edwin as he continually manoeuvres and battles to keep, and control, his kingdom of the north. We develop, as Hild does, an awareness of the powerful and vital alliances woven by her mother, which intertwine and sometimes diverge from Edwin’s efforts. Hild grows into the two worlds and takes us with her, absorbing the rhythms of both and the growing power of the coming Christian church and its written language.

What Griffith so vividly creates is a rich, sumptuous, foreign past, and a world complex enough to explain how the second daughter of a never-king might become the converter of a whole land. Women are not often the agents of early medieval fiction, and Hild leaves you wondering why.

Marie Matteson is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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