Nicola Griffith’s Hild is a historical semi-biography—that is, it’s about a real person, and it doesn’t contradict the facts that are known about her life… but also, this is 7th century proto-England, and almost everything we know about the real-life person is based on a short bit in Bede, so most of this is pure invention.
But it’s a convincing invention. What we know about this time period is very limited, so Griffith is doing a lot of world-building, but… it feels real. The attitudes that people have are convincingly unmodern in most respects—how they think about religion, sex, politics, the good life are all very different from how we do—while still being believable and coherent.
To a very real extent, more than being a story about Hild, this is a story about the world she lives in, a world on the cusp of major changes; Griffith’s writing (aided by the length of the book) draw you into this world and make it feel as real as anything. This collection of bare names and scanty events from historical documents is given the weight and texture of reality.
It’s quietly excellent, and the one warning I’ll give is that this is the first volume of a planned trilogy, which I didn’t know going in. That’s not a big problem for this book taken on its own—it tells a reasonably complete coming-of-age story—but I do worry that if I grab the next one in a few years, I’m not going to remember all the intricate relationships between the large supporting cast.