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Monday, April 18, 2011

Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale by Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli

Melkorka is a princess, the first daughter of a magnificent kingdom in medieval Ireland -- but all of this is lost the day she is kidnapped and taken aboard a marauding slave ship. Thrown into a world that she has never known, alongside people that her former country's laws regarded as less than human, Melkorka is forced to learn quickly how to survive. Taking a vow of silence, however, she finds herself an object of fascination to her captors and masters, and soon realizes that any power, no matter how little, can make a difference.

I'm not going to lie, I bought Hush on pure cover/title appeal (it was $3!  Why not?).  Gladly, I wasn't disappointed.  Hush expands on a very small part of an Icelandic saga, filling it out and bringing it to life quite nicely.  It follows Melkorka, an Irish princess who is kidnapped by slave traders.  While being transported aboard their longboat, Melkorka refuses to speak; coupled with other circumstances, her silence leads the leader of the slave traders to think she has powers, and he both reveres and fears her.  This made for interesting interactions, and made Melkorka's whole journey more intriguing.  Not to mention, I seem to have a thing for silent characters.  It's such an interesting plot device, when done well.

What I liked most about this, I think, is that Napoli wasn't afraid to explore the harsher realities of Melkorka's life and the times she lived in.  This is not a sugar-coated story; bad things happen.  It felt very much like she was trying to truly explore and portray the life Melkorka-from-the-saga may have lived.  Things are grim; people are feudal and rampaging - but still people, and still capable of all that's good and all that's bad in human nature.  This is true of Melkorka, too.  She doesn't start out a very likeable heroine.  She starts out spoiled and haughty and not a very sympathetic character at all.  But she grows and learns; it's a very wheel of fortune (the philosophy, not the game show) type of story.  She starts on top, and like most people when they're at the top of the wheel, thinking they'll never hit the bottom, Melkorka looks down on those below her, and is sneering and if not cruel, then certainly not warm.  Her family owns slaves themselves, so when Melkorka becomes one, it is obviously quite an adjustment to her world view.   But this in keeping with the times and the saga, and it makes for a really interesting read.

That being said, you have to get there to enjoy it -- Melkorka doesn't make it easy to read in the beginning because it's hard to find her enjoyable or to want to root for her.  This may turn some readers off and keep them from finishing, and it may make others never really care what she goes through. There were also a couple of things that I found to be too convenient and obvious plot devices, which may put readers off.  I also think that those unfamiliar with the saga it's based on (and therefore unprepared for the ending and the lack of resolution) will be quite angry at the end.  Especially those who are eternally on the hunt for happy endings.
But those who don't mind some struggle and harshness -- and a good dose of reality -- will likely be won over by this telling, though I do agree with Heather that I would have liked to see this done as an adult story, where we could really explore and dig our teeth in.  At the very least, I would have liked to see the story taken farther into Melkorka's life; though I understand the motivations to end it when Napoli did.


  1. This sounds fascinating! I have not heard of the saga so I must read that first and then dig into this book! I do have a weakness for lovey-dovey happy endings, but I am willing to overlook the harshness of this book to read! Fabulous review :)

  2. I haven't read this one yet. I've read a lot of Napoli (obviously) but this one is new to me. I think I'll familiarize myself with the original first, and then pick this one up.

  3. There's not much to familiarize yourself with. The Melkorka in the saga is basically a footnote. She's the mute concubine/wife of a lord (?), and one day he hears her talking to their son, and she tells him that she is really an Irish princess who was kidnapped and sold as a slave. That's all there is to her story. The only reason she's there is because she's the mother of one of the famous historical figures (a real person, seemingly, though greatly exaggerated, I'm sure).
    Napoli took this tidbit and fleshed it out.

    And thanks, Katelyn!

  4. My enjoyment of a book does not depend on a happy ending at all, so this might eb soemthign that I'd like. Plus, who could resist that cover?!

  5. I really liked this novel by Napoli. I liked that it wasn't a clean cut "and then they lived happily ever after." It's harsh and gritty, but so very good. I had a lot of trouble putting this down. I can see why Napoli took the path she did.

  6. Im gonna read this! 3 bucks? Thats incredible!


  7. If you liked this one, you should read Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, This is my all time favourite book, and Hush sounds very similar :)

  8. Oh, Shannon. Shannon, Shannon, Shannon.
    My dear, I've read DOTF on more than one occasion. I simply saved the best for last!

  9. :D YAY! I think if anyone hasnt read this book yet, then they are seirously missing out!

  10. :D YAY! I think if anyone hasnt read this book yet, then they are seirously missing out!

  11. Seriously! I love it. It's one of my favorite books, let alone fairy tales.

  12. Lol same, It doesn't matter how many other fantastic books I read, Daughter of the Forest (and Son of the Shadows, and a few of her others) remain at the ver top of my favourties list. She is just an amazing author, Im really looking forward to her new series :-)


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