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Book review: Menewood by Nicola Griffith

Hild by Nicola Griffith was my favourite book of recent years, so I was very pleased to hear there was a sequel - Menewood - and then very pleased to get an eARC of it a couple of months ago.

Hild was about the early years of the girl who would become St Hilda, up to age 18, and this book covers the next few years of her life. She is cousin to a king, and influences the world around her in many different ways. Menewood is a wooded valley that she owns, and it's the place in this book that she goes back to. She has a certain amount of power because of her family connections, but also has a lot of other skills which she brings to bear to affect what's going on around her.

Reading it is like travelling back in time to the seventh century. It's really immersive - sights and smells are so well described. There's no Tardis to translate for you, but there's a glossary at the back as there are a few words that have no modern equivalent.

What is now England was a number of different kingdoms in the seventh century, and there's a lot about the shifting alliances and threats of, and actual battles going on. I find that sort of thing difficult to keep in my head. I'm looking forward to getting the book and re-reading it while flicking back to the maps and list of characters to keep track. Nicola helps us though, by reminding us of where people fit in when they pop up again.

As well as the bigger things going on, there are also more personal stories going on in her life. She uses her power, and the skills of those who look to her to provide for more people as they come to Menewood, but also for other settlements further afield. In turn, those around her look out for her, as she works on making life better for her people - those who live in Elmet (which covers some of what is now Yorkshire).

I know from Nicola's blog posts some of the research she's done, so there's nothing like "We'll get to Sherwood [from Dover] by nightfall", as Kevin Costner said in Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves. Travel is slow and may take days. I'm the sort of person who wonders how the economics of stories work ("What was Frodo's job?), and there's nothing puzzling me in this book!

It's released on 3 October, 2023. For more information on how to pre-order it see Menewood.

Here's a quote to whet your appetite:

Winter war was the ruin of the pattern.

Near the beginning of a new weave, if she felt a flaw through her hands—the hitch in the flow, a tension on the loom as she threaded the shuttle through the warp—she could stop and unpick one row: a moment, a blink, and it was mended. But if she ignored it, if she pretended it was nothing, she would begin to feel each pass of the shuttle, each beat of the weft turn more wrong, until she slowed, closed her eyes, and stopped. Then she must tally the time it would take to undo the weave, and weigh that against the rest of the work to be done.


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