The child's world changed late one afternoon, though she didn't know it.
–Nicola Griffith - Hild - c.2013
Book 1 of The Light of the World trilogy.
The world is always changing, but Britain in the seventh century was a time of huge upheaval in society. Christianity is beginning to make inroads. Kings are beginning to consolidate territories. War is everywhere, and might makes right. In such a world how is a widow to protect her children? By making them important, by making other people believe them to be powerful. And so Breguswith tells the world that she had a dream about her unborn child, transforming her daughter into the “light of the world”, a seer. A woman with a voice that all listened to.
Hild is based on the historical figure of Hilda of Whitby, but very little is known about her today, so Griffith was free to make up so much. But the average reader isn’t too familiar with the world of Britain in the 600s so Griffith has to work hard to keep you up to date on all the political shenanigans, the family relationships, and the endless battles and wars. Personally I thought she did a fantastic book. It was such an immersive book. Hild pays attention to so many little details, that is how she prophecies, she notices patterns and extrapolates. And all those little details paint a wonderful picture of Northumbria and the world Hild inhabits.
Of course I don’t know if any of it is accurate, I don’t know much about that time, but it feels authentic and real. It feels like the truth. Obviously much of it is created, we only know the bare bones about peoples lives back then, but it never feels as though Griffith is making something up.
I really loved this book. It says so much. About the role of women in a world dominated by battles, and the men who wield swords. It talks about how women relate to that power imbalance by nudging and guiding, because they lacked the power to command. How women work together, female friendship is hugely important in Hild, but also how they are torn apart from one another as they are send off to different families and lands as wives.
And it is so full of details about every day life. About weaving, churning, toiling – the endless work that made up the days. It is so vivid. The whole world comes alive in those ordinary details.
But also the loneliness that is Hild’s life. She has been made into this seer, and yes she has the brain for it,, but it isn’t an easy life. She is regarded with suspicion by so many. She constantly has to watch what she says, how she says it, and what she does. It is a precarious position. And I loved her relationship with her mother, the way it shifts over the course of the novel as Hild grows up and comes to know the harsh realities of life, power, and staying on the right side of the king.
I suppose in many ways it is a book all about power. And how we are all powerless really. Sure the king may be able to command, but in the end, as the book says “all kings fall”, and they have to scheme and sacrifice in order to become king, and then to keep that position they have to work even harder. So the powerful are controlled because they wish to control. And the poor? Well they have no power, they may be killed at almost any time, hunger, disease, war. They have very little say in what happens to them.
I’m touching on so many different aspects of this book, because it is so wonderful and in itself covers so much, but I loved the whole feel of it. Hild is such a great character, I didn’t know that this was the first book in a trilogy before I started it, but I’m delighted to hear it because I want to know more about her and her world. I will also have to buy this book for myself as I read a library copy, but I am one hundred per cent definite that I will reread this book. And probably a few times.