Hild is a 2013 historical novel and the sixth novel by British author Nicola Griffith. The book was first published in the United States by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on November 12, 2013 and in the United Kingdom on October 4, 2014 through Blackfriars Books. Griffith has stated that the book will be the first in a trilogy and that the tentative title for the second book will be Menewood. Hild is a fictionalized telling of the life of Hilda of Whitby, also known as Hild of Streoneshalh, a significant figure in medieval Britain.
The book includes a map, a glossary of terms, and a pronunciation guide.
Seventh century Britain is in transition. Small kingdoms are merging. Edwin of Northumbria plots to become overking of the Angles using every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, and religious belief. Into this world Hild is born, the king's niece: a child with a glittering mind, powerful curiosity, and will of adamant. Edwin is cunning and ruthless, but Hild is matchless. She carves herself a place as his advisor, a young woman at the heart of the violence, subtlety, and mysticism of the early medieval age. But kings don't trust anyone, even nieces. And at this level, the stakes are life and death.
Prior to writing Hild, Griffith began researching Hild and seventh century Britain, upon which point she realized that there was not much known about Hild as a historical person. Griffith documented her research on her blog Gemæcce and during this process she began wondering several things about Hild, such as what her likes, dislikes, and reasons for choosing specific actions- things that were not recorded in history. While writing the character Griffith noted that she had two types of close personal relationship with women outside of her immediately family: her sexual partner and her gemaecce. Griffith created the term gemæcce from the Old English word gemæcca meaning "mate, equal, one of a pair, comrade, companion" and "husband or wife", which she repurposed to refer to a female friend and work partner.
As she was female and held a position in her uncle's court, Griffith realized that it would be possible for Hild to have sexual partners of either sex as women of Hild's station would have to worry primarily about being discreet and careful about whom they selected. However Griffith also stated that:
Hild isn’t lesbian/homosexual. She’s bisexual. I doubt they had such terms back then, though. I’ve seen no evidence that who you did or did not have sex with defined how women thought of themselves. Actually, there’s no evidence for anything, sexually, in early seventh-century northern Britain. Nothing. No material culture and no text.
The way I see it, at the time, before widespread conversion to Roman Christianity, no one much cared who you did and didn’t have sex with. Sex wasn’t a moral issue. All royal women before the founding of nunneries [...] got married, and that if they then wanted to have sex with other women no one would much care as long as they were discreet. After all, the point of marriage was alliance, household management, and the provision of heirs. Married girls loving other married girls wouldn’t have any impact on any of these points.
Griffith also stated that she wanted to write the book in an immersive style in order to let the reader "experience the seventh century, to see, smell, hear, taste and feel what Hild does; to gradually adopt her mindset and worldview; to think as she does, to learn her lessons, feel her joys—to be her, just for a little while."
Critical reception for Hild has been positive and many compared the work to Dame Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. American historical novelist Cecelia Holland wrote in Locus Magazine that "Griffith’s description of how the little girl Hild foretells some events is deftly done [...] In dealing with the history the book is less effective, and for an interesting reason. Contrast this novel with Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which also treats a huge political landscape from the perspective of one character." Mantel could take advantage of the popularity of Tudor history and "never had to describe the ins and outs of Tudor politics; she could incorporate whole masses of data by a simple reference. ... Griffith has nothing like this. Very few people know anything at all" about fifth-century politics, historical figures, and linguistics. "So all this data falls on Hild to divulge, the whole tangle of little kingdoms, the people with names like Coelfrith... and Eadfrith..., the family feuds and the religious undercurrents..."
In contrast a reviewer for the Chicago Tribune wrote that the book had more in common with T. H. White's The Once and Future King and George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones than with Wolf Hall. Amal El-Mohtar gave the work high praise in an NPR article, writing "Hild is a book as loving as it is fierce, brilliant and accomplished. To read it felt like a privilege and a gift."
The work also received praise from Publishers Weekly, who named it one of their "Books of the Week" for November 11, 2013, and the Seattle Times, who named it one of the "best titles of 2013".Tiptree Honor Book (2013)
Nebula Award for Best Novel (2013, nominated)
Washington State Book Award for Fiction (2014, winner)
ALA GLBTRT Over the Rainbow Project list, Fiction (2014)
ALA RUSA Notable Book, Historical Fiction (2014)
Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Fiction (2014, nominated)
John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (2014, nominated)
Bisexual Book Award for Bisexual Fiction (2014, nominated)
Guardian Not the Booker (2014, longlisted)