Published (UK), August 21st 2015, 352 Pages
The dramatic story of a seventh-century evangelist
Chosen as Eostre’s handmaid, Hild will serve the fertility goddess for a year before being wed. Her future is predictable until King Edwin claims her as kin and she learns that her father was murdered.
Her first love is given a command in Edwin’s forces and vanishes from her life, wed to her sister. The court is baptized, ending the old religion and Hild’s role. Life looks bleak. She can’t stop wondering who killed her father.
Suspecting Edwin, she challenges him, only to be married off to safeguard his northern frontier. Struggling in a loveless marriage, she is intrigued by the Iona priests making pilgrimages to spread Christ’s love. When home and family are lost in Oswy’s sack of Edinburgh, she finds herself in enemy hands, but meets the charismatic Aidan.
Inspired and guided by him, she builds communities to live and teach Christ’s love. She attracts followers. Even her old enemy, King Oswy, entrusts his child to her, gives her Whitby, and seeks her help to reconcile divisions in his kingdom.
She never ceases battling against old superstitions resurrected by storm, plague, and solar eclipse, but at last she receives a bishop s blessing from a man she trained herself.
When I saw Lion Fiction (Kregel in the US) the Publisher of Edoardo Albert’s fantastic Northumbrian Thrones Series, set in seventh century England were bringing out another book about a major figure from this time, I snapped it up. I confess to a long-enduring love for the Anglo-Saxon era, and the seventh century was a golden age for the famous Kingdom of Northumbria.
Whilst many other works set at this time are very masculine with an emphasis on battles, war and politics it was interesting to find a story that looks at the time from a female perspective focused on everyday life, family relationships and the management of estates.
Such a woman was Hild, sometimes known as St Hilda, born to a royal Saxon father and British mother. Little is known of her early life and adulthood, before she assumed the leadership of Whitby Abbey- in its day one of the most famous religious houses of Northern England.
As such, much of the novel is what I would call speculative history (based on likely circumstances of what might have been but we cannot know for certain), recounting Hild’s journey through marriage, life the turbulent political circumstances of the time and place, and ultimately to faith.
After her conversion, and entry into a religious house, Hild has been lauded as one of the most powerful and influential women of her time- Kings and clerics came to her for advice, and her Abbey trained men who would one day become Priests, Bishops and missionaries even a poet.
Her story and those of her fellows are told with honesty, compassion and is compelling enough to hold the reader’s interest. My only complaints were the writing style. Somehow, in the narrative passages it lacked the descriptive, almost poetic beauty of Edoardo Albert’s novels which evoke Tolkien and the Epic Literature of the age, instead a rather informal conversational tone is used.
At times, this resulted in language that seemed too modern for the time, and certain turns of phrase which might have been unique to Northern England which might pass over readers from other backgrounds. I did spot a few anachronisms, and in places the writing seemed a little ‘rushed’, and I found myself reading passages again as within a sentence or two the characters would move to a different room, place or situation. Sometimes it could be hard to keep up.
However, the author’s note citing such renowned writers as Kathleen Herbert and Christine Fell suggests that much sound research had gone into the story, so maybe what felt like a lack of a ‘sense of period’ in some parts could be attributed to personal opinion.
Aside from the above, this book had many positives. It is a wonderful biography of arguably one of the most important women in Early Medieval Christian Britain. I would certainly recommend to any interested in women’s history or this fascinating, formative era of England’s past.
Thanks to Lion Fiction for the copy they gave me for review. I was not required to write a positive one an all opinions expressed are my own.