Hild is, or became, St Hilda of Whitby. She starts the book as a tiny, recently orphaned child in a scary world. I enjoyed this a lot, although I wish I had paid more attention to the map at the front. I spent a lot of time frustrated that my 7th century British geography wasn’t any better. This may be partly because my north-east geography is pretty vague anyway. You’ve got your Newcastle, then Durham, and the other bits, right? I also struggled with exactly which group of people were which, and how they related to each other, personally and geographically (see above). Who were the Yffings?
I decided not to look too much of it up until after I finished, and some of what I’ve found has been quite interesting.
What none of the above changes is that the land and way of life for Hild and Edwin and Cian and all the others is immediate and alive in this book, even if the who’s doing what to who doesn’t always make perfect sense (or, more accurately, if you’re not paying attention properly). Hild climbing a tree to watch the flight of the birds. Cian desperate to show off his fighting prowess. Edwin nervously watching his gesiths for signs of disloyalty. And everyone trying to make sure they make it through to next summer, and preferably better off than last time. It’s a stunning piece of work.