At Last: Menewood

Okay, a week or so ago, Elaine T alerted me to the upcoming (for generous definitions of “upcoming”) release of Menewood by Nicola Griffith.

I thought I’d pull that out and focus on this a little.

Q) Why are we sure it’s really coming out after all this time? I mean, HILD came out in … let me see … wow, 2013. That is A TEN YEAR GAP. Are we actually sure?

A) We are pretty sure.

That’s because MENEWOOD is out on Amazon with a preorder button you can hit. Neither Amazon nor a publisher would be at all keen on putting a book up for preorder if it weren’t REALLY and TRULY going to come out on that date. The date is not exactly soon, but it’s in 2023 rather than anything later than that. In fact, it’s October 2023. Early October, if that helps.

The price is high for an ebook. But this is, I expect, going to be a really long ebook. HILD is over 700 pages, and it looks like MENEWOOD is going to be a bit longer than that. Oh, yes, I see that according to Griffith, MENEWOOD is a third longer than HILD.

Also, HILD was really … what is a good term … dense. I’m sure the sequel will be no less so.

Q) What do you mean exactly by “dense”?

A) I mean, HILD exerts a kind of gravity that distorts literary space in its vicinity.

HILD may be the best historical novel I’ve ever read, period. Griffith is an astoundingly good stylist, so that’s part of why. She is also deep into the history. On a normal curve of historical novels, where on the left you have cutesy historicals like The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, which I found just unreadably silly, and to the right you have the best-researched, best written historicals that do the best job of evoking the period in question, then way over on the long tail of the right, that’s where you’ll find HILD.

Q) What period is that exactly? I mean, Hild who?

A) Here is the description from Amazon.

In seventh-century Britain, small kingdoms are merging, frequently and violently. A new religion is coming ashore; the old gods are struggling, their priests worrying. Hild is the king’s youngest niece, and she has a glimmering mind and a natural, noble authority. She will become a fascinating woman and one of the pivotal figures of the Middle Ages: Saint Hilda of Whitby.

But now she has only the powerful curiosity of a bright child, a will of adamant, and a way of seeing the world–of studying nature, of matching cause with effect, of observing her surroundings closely and predicting what will happen next–that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her.

Her uncle, Edwin of Northumbria, plots to become overking of the Angles, ruthlessly using every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief. Hild establishes a place for herself at his side as the king’s seer. And she is indispensable–unless she should ever lead the king astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, for her family, for her loved ones, and for the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can read the world and see the future.

Q) Okay … so … this is St. Hild of Whitby, then.

A) Yes, but we barely see the potential for Hild’s life going in that direction in the first book.

In the first book, Hild begins as a child. At the end, she is still a quite young woman, though a lot has happened. I mean, a lot.

Q) What happens in the second book?

A) Griffith has posted a tentative description on her blog, thus:

Hild is no longer the bright child who made a place in Edwin Overking’s court with her seemingly supernatural insight. She is eighteen, honed and tested, the formidable Lady of Elmet, now building her personal stronghold in the valley of Menewood.

But Edwin recalls his most trusted advisor. Old alliances are fraying. Younger rivals are snapping at his heels. War is brewing—bitter war, winter war. Not knowing who to trust he becomes volatile and unpredictable. Hild begins to understand the true extent of the chaos ahead, and now she must navigate the turbulence and fight to protect both the kingdom and her own people.

She will face the losses and devastation of total war, and then must find a new strength, the implacable determination to forge a radically different path for herself and her people. In the valley, her last redoubt, her community slowly takes root. She trains herself and her unexpected allies in new ways of thinking, and she prepares for one last wager: risking all on a single throw for a better future…

Q) What else does Griffith say about MENEWOOD?

A) You can check out her blog post here, but here is a snippet:

Menewood is epic. It begins four months after the end of Hild, and covers only four years of Hild’s life, but those years are intense: war and defeat, alliance and betrayal, birth and death, joy and forgiveness, violence and rage, love and lust, war and victory, grief and loss, learning and building, bravery and cowardice, growth and change, war and devastation, power and responsibility, and the making, breaking, and shaping of kings.

Menewood is also full of quieter moments: peace, pleasure, contentment, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, sorrow, laughter, warmth, friendship, and farewells. It is a book about life: how it feels, what it means, how it changes.

Q) Wait, it only covers four years of Hild’s life?

A) Apparently so! I did think it was pretty obvious this was going to be a trilogy.

We can only hope that the THIRD book does not take ten years. I see from her blog that Nicola has been having a hard time lately. I hope everything smooths out in her life in the near future, mostly for her sake but also for the rest of us, because the world will literally be a poorer place if this series is not finished.

Meanwhile, MENEWOOD going to be well worth reading right now, without waiting for any subsequent volumes.

HILD was my favorite book of the year the year I read it, which wasn’t quite the year it came out, but was long enough ago that I’m definitely going to re-read it before reading MENEWOOD.

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5 thoughts on “At Last: Menewood”

  1. Bc of Elaine T’s comment, I read Hild recently, and…wow. I believe Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series is the best set of historical novels I have ever read, but I can see why you like Hild so much. I am still trying to wrap my head around the ending. That being said, and having read the bio of St Hild, I’m not sure I am up to reading the second of a trilogy, where the sad parts are likely to outweigh the happy ones, regardless of what she writes in her blog.

  2. I’ve been looking forward to the sequel to Hild for a long time, thanks for posting about it! I’ve pre-ordered the hardcover. Hopefully it drops in price at some point before it comes out and I don’t actually have to pay $35 for it – but I’m sure it will be worth $35 either way.

    I will also need to do a reread before reading Menewood.

  3. I’ve never even heard of HILD, but now feel like I need to. Like Alison says above, I think Dorothy Dunnett is the master for historical fiction–both her Lymond series and Niccolo. I find it hard to imagine someone being better, but I’m definitely up to giving it a try!

  4. At one point in the Niccolo serie, I got stressed enough to quit for TWO YEARS. I have never been able to face a reread. Lymond, I love to pieces. That was the direct inspiration for my Death’s Lady trilogy. I was trying to separate the protagonist and point of view roles exactly as Dunnett did. It’s such an interesting technique!

  5. I read the Niccolo series first and love it–though it very definitely gets stressful there! I’ve read both series several times (five, maybe?) and find new things to appreciate each time. And yes, Dunnett’s POV technique is fascinating!

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