Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale by Donna Jo Napoli

This book was not exactly what I expected, but I enjoyed it. It follows the story of Melkorka, an Irish princess from the 1100's or so, who is kidnapped by slavers. They have no knowledge of who she is, and are only kidnapping her and her sister because they are mainly child slavers. They have a couple of women with them, but as they travel, they focus on picking up the lone children they see on the coasts they pass. In order to protect themselves, she and her sister do not speak. Melkorka fears being known as a young woman - she wants her captors to believe that she is a boy. But her silence becomes a defining feature, and her captors come to believe that she is some kind of sorceress. As they travel, they reach lands that are further and further away from her native Ireland, eventually reaching Russia and parts of the Ottoman Empire. She is eventually sold, at an exorbitant rate, due to the fact that her captor is terrified of what she will do to him when she is no longer his. But he cannot refuse what he is offered for her. By this time they have returned to the west, and continue out to Iceland, further west than Melkorka ever thought to go.
Although Melkorka is completely silent towards all of the other characters in the book, the story is told from her point of view, first person. We know more about what she thinks and how she feels than anyone else. The story is not as grim as might be predicted, although everyone she meets eventually is either sold off, or, like her sister, escapes to an uncertain fate. By the time she is sold as a concubine, she has no friends, although she has been able to help various people along the way. The story feels true, and has some interesting historical details, although it is limited by what Melkorka experiences. This is a good book for older teens, and could work for more mature younger teens as well, as it does not get into anything to grim or graphic even with the theme of child slavery.

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