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.