Hush by Donna Jo Napoli

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Hush by Donna Jo Napoli

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Category: Teens
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: An evocative odyssey tale which juxtaposes the lives of princesses and slaves in tenth century society. Fascinating and compelling, with strong female characters.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Childrens Books
ISBN: 184738255X

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Melkorka is a princess; the beloved oldest daughter of a medieval Irish king. Her father is a famous warrior, her mother is beautiful and kind. The family have great wealth. Melkorka sets great store by her heritage and birth and she looks down on the royal family's slaves. But all this changes when a blood feud forces Mel and her sister Brigid to flee their home until the danger is past. They don't make it far. Kidnapped by Vikings, Mel finds herself bound and tied on a longboat, destined for the Russian slave trade. Mel must learn quickly if she is to survive. Seeing that the Viking leader senses something strange in her, Mel takes a vow of silence. This oath brings her some small power over her captors - one which she must cling to if she is to have any hope carving out a new life in a hostile environment. Now she knows what it is to be a slave.

I really enjoyed Hush. It can be difficult to write about strong female or slave characters from this period without becoming anachronistic but Napoli has managed wonderfully here. Although a great deal happens externally, the reader will come away from the book with an understanding how things happen to Mel and her extremely limited capacity - both as woman and slave - to respond to them. The vow of silence device gives the character her power and strength and requires no unlikely or anachronistic actions on her part. And this gives us a vivid picture of tenth-century life. It's taken from an old Icelandic folk tale about a silent slave concubine from Ireland, who is discovered talking to her son. And here, Napoli considers a possible background to the story.

There's also a wealth of period detail - the Irish wear sweaters knitted in patterns peculiar to their village so their bodies can be identified if they drown; the Vikings carried livestock in their longboats. And the sweep of Mel's journey takes us from tenth century Ireland, to England, to Russia, to Iceland. It's a wonderful glimpse at the competing cultures of the time.

The narrative is flowing and easy to read. It's approachable by any historical fiction fan of about ten and up, although nervous parents should know there are some scenes involving sex - and non-consensual sex to boot. Mel's sensibilities are those of a young woman though, so perhaps the readers who will take most from Hush are the early to mid-teens and upwards.

My thanks to the nice people at Simon & Schuster for sending the book.

Younger readers might like to continue a-Viking with Viking Girl or Slave Girl, while older readers might enjoy the blend of ancient Ireland and the borders during the Troubles in Bog Child. You might also enjoy Daughter of the Flames by Zoe Marriott.

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