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I think the ideal gift book, particularly in winter, should satisfy the following conditions: (1) It should be hefty. (2) It should be, additionally, engrossing — a story that settles heavy and warm across your brain. And finally, (3) it should be pure pleasure. A gift shouldn't feel like homework.
By this rubric, Hild, the new historical novel from Nicola Griffith, is beyond ideal. To summarize, briefly: it's a story set in seventh-century England, tracing the life of its namesake, the woman known today as St. Hilda of Whitby. Early reviews have compared it to George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, and there is, indeed, plenty of court intrigue here, but I think Hild is both subtler and less cynical than Martin's saga. It's a grown-up tale that could nonetheless sit comfortably alongside books by Susan Cooper, Rosemary Sutcliff, and Susanna Clarke (all favorites of mine).
Anyway, I got my hands on an advance copy of Hild earlier this year and found myself utterly absorbed. It's been a while since I was so happy reading a book this fat. Maybe you'll recognize this feeling: you're a few hundred pages in, head spinning with everything that's happened, hungry for more but now reckoning with the reality that no book lasts forever... until you realize, with delight and even a bit of disbelief, that you're not even to the halfway point yet.
There really needs to be a word for that feeling. A long German word.
So, Hild had me lost in its pages for days and, yes, buckling under its weight somewhat. I've ordered three more copies earmarked as Christmas gifts; after delivery, I expect not to hear from their recipients for a while. That's as it should be. This is the time of year to surrender without struggle to the pleasure of a big, bountiful book.
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Robin Sloan is the author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. He is a self-proclaimed media inventor and writer living in San Francisco. He grew up near Detroit and went to school at Michigan State, where he studied economics and cofounded a literary magazine. Since then, he's worked at Poynter, Current TV, and Twitter, figuring out the future of media.
Books mentioned in this post
Robin Sloan is the author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore