First of all, I really like the concept of a “peaceweaver.” In this book set in a sort of mythical medieval Saxon culture, Hild wants to use her womanly influence to become a peaceweaver, someone who persuades the men of her honor-based culture to make peace, to forgive, and to overlook slights and small insults. Yet, Hild herself is a product of her own culture. She sees herself as too good, too “honorable”, to associate with slaves and people from another land who do not follow the same customs as her people. She wants to be a peaceweaver, but she finds herself embroiled in violence over and over again throughout the course of the story. It’s a fascinating dilemma, and the story of Hild and her journey through the wilderness to find her own honor and peace is a magical read, both literally and figuratively.
Hild is not only a girl who wishes to become a peaceweaver; she is also what the people of her country call a “far-minded woman.” To be far-minded means to be able to see far, into the future, but also into the minds and hearts of others. Hild uses this far-mindedness to defend others, or perhaps she is possessed by it as many of her own family believe. She must decide for herself whether her gift is good or evil, and she must also decide where her true home is and what true honor means.
Rebecca Barnhouse is a medieval scholar, and her erudition shows as she weaves Norse gods, Saxon mythology, and a coming of age story together to make a novel that will appeal to anyone who is interested in any of the above. I doubt this book will be flying off the shelves, and I do have a couple of quibbles (Why does the book introduce Hild’s older sister, Sigyn, in the first chapter and then never mention her again? And is Hild’s escape from the monster really credible?). However, if it doesn’t become a bestseller, it should find a niche with those readers who are interested in all things medieval and Norse and even feminist, in the best sense of the word.
By the way, if you want to know about honor-based cultures, at least where I got my introduction to the concept, look here in this post by Lars Walker at Brandywine Books and at this article by Jonathan Rauch called Pride Goeth Before a Brawl.