Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale

Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale

3.8 43
by Donna Jo Napoli

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Melkorka is a princess, the first daughter of a magnificent kingdom in mediæval 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…  See more details below


Melkorka is a princess, the first daughter of a magnificent kingdom in mediæval 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.

Based on an ancient Icelandic saga, award-winning author Donna Jo Napoli has crafted a heartbreaking story of a young girl who must learn to forget all that she knows and carve out a place for herself in a new world -- all without speaking a word.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Close in tone and audience to Napoli's Bound, this powerful survival story invents a backstory for Melkorka, a character in a major Icelandic work, the Laxdæla saga. Melkorka, 15, and sister Brigid, eight, are daughters of an Irish king early in the 10th century, when Viking raids on castles and monasteries are common. After a Norse youth attacks their brother, their father plans revenge by luring a Viking ship to their town. The girls, dressed as boys in peasant clothing, are hurriedly sent for their safety to a distant "ringfort." Instead, they are captured by Russian slavers who troll the coastlines, kidnapping women and children. To conceal their high birth, Mel and Brigid do not speak, and their silence gives them a hold over their captors, the leader of whom comes to fear that Mel is an enchantress. Napoli does not shy from detailing practices that will make readers wince: human hairs serve as sutures, bloody wounds are stuffed with moss-and the Russian crew repeatedly gang-rapes an older captive. Melkorka's journey becomes intellectual as well as geographical. Accustomed to being waited on, she admits to disdain for slaves: "Some are of ordinary intelligence, but most are stupid," she says at the beginning, an opinion that will change radically with her reversed circumstances. The vocabulary, much of which is specific to the setting, may challenge readers, but it's unlikely to stop them: the tension over Mel's hopes for escape paces this story like a thriller. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Irish princess Melkorka is always being told by her mother that she should hush. After she is kidnapped by a Viking slave ship, silence brings her strength. When Melkorka refuses to speak, one of the traders aboard believes that she is a witch and protects her. Eventually Melkorka is sold to a man who favors her and makes her his concubine. In the end, Melkorka finds herself settling in a new land, with a child of her own on the way. Hush is a difficult book to begin; Melkorka is a spoiled, unlikable character. Once on the slave ship, however, her character begins transforming, and the reader begins caring about her plight. The conclusion will not satisfy readers looking for a traditional happy ending, but the journey is haunting in ways similar to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The fact that Melkorna does not speak throughout the final two-thirds of the book might be frustrating for some readers, but it is essential in maintaining the atmosphere of the work and the major theme of its title. Several scenes allude to rape-one of them a gang rape and the other the beginning of Melkorka's relationship as a concubine. Other mature discussions involve the brutality of the medieval world (poor families put their newborns in the snow to avoid feeding them) and Melkorka's gradual acceptance of her fate, including her relationship with the man who purchased her. This challenging read is based in part on an old Irish folktale. Reviewer: Karen Jensen
Children's Literature
This tale is not just about an Irish princess, medieval and bold, being sent to a safe haven by her mother. It is not just about rapacious Vikings raiding, pillaging and plundering the rich coastal villages of Eire. It is about the brutality of war and how children and women bear the biggest burdens of living with loss. Melkurka’s world, which we come to share, is not perfect. Her brother, the heir-apparent to the throne, was maimed by a Viking for nothing more than a bet. She and her sister are in danger because of a retaliatory raid in progress. Sounds like Iraq or Palestine, give or take 1,000 years. But Melkorka is a survivor who endures being sold as a slave, even gaining favor by use her one distinguishing trait: silence. No matter what, she does not speak or cry out. And because of her hush, she endures when others do not. She travels to the Ends of the World (Russia) and back to Eire, then on to Iceland, all in silence. Through her keen eye, the reader is taken into a world of war and conquest, narrated by women who overcome frailty and bear children in spite of all they see and experience. Highly recommended, especially for high school history and women’s studies classes. Reviewer: Gwynne Spencer
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
We can always trust Napoli (Head of the Linguistics Department at Swarthmore College) to give us a well-researched, thoughtful novel that touches deep emotions. Hush is essentially a story of a princess who loses everything and is forced into slavery. It is set in the 10th century and the heroine appears briefly in an Icelandic saga, telling of a woman named Melkorka, a slave of a local chieftain who purchased her from a Russian slave merchant. Melkorka doesn't speak, until her young son is two years old, when she begins talking to him in Gaelic, and then admits to her owner that she was once an Irish princess. That is the basic story Napoli takes as a basis for her imaginative portrayal of Melkorka, captured with her little sister by Russian slavers, sailing with them around the known world, to Kiev and to Arab lands, eventually being sold to an Icelandic chieftain who admires her beauty and courage. Melkorka's strength comes from many sources, including a decision to remain mute, not revealing her identity. She keeps sane by holding on to her own identity and by making herself useful, learning to be the assistant to the healer, giving support when she can to the other slaves, many of whom are children. Strong story and a memorable heroine. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up
In 10th-century Ireland, coexisting with the Vikings makes life dangerous, even for a princess. When Melkorka's father plans to avenge a brutal Norse attack, she and her sister are dressed as peasant boys and sent away for safety. However, they are captured by slave traders, who sail away with them. Drawing upon strength she did not know she had, Melkorka survives her capture and enslavement by choosing to become mute. At first, the silence comes from the princess's disdain for her animalistic captors. Before long, she realizes that her refusal to speak intrigues one of them and gives her a modicum of power over him that ends up saving her life. The longer she remains silent, the more mysterious Melkorka becomes to the men around her because nothing they do rattles her resolve. Even when she is finally sold to a powerful Norseman and becomes his concubine, her silence remains. And yet, she is not voiceless. The way in which she conducts herself speaks volumes about her will to live and her humanity. Perhaps the most poignant moment comes when the protagonist realizes that she will probably never return to Ireland. Napoli does an extraordinary job of using the first-person voice to keep readers in tune with Melkorka's maturing character; her beautifully recounted journey will stay with teens long after the book ends. Though in some ways the opposite of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (Farrar, 1999), Hush is an equally powerful exploration of what it means to have a voice.
—Cheri DobbsCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Napoli takes the bare bones of a legend-Icelandic, tenth century this time-and clothes it in fire, flesh and blood. Melkorka is 15 and her sister Brigid eight when they are swept from their royal Irish parents and taken by a slave ship. When Brigid leaps overboard in a desperate move to escape, Mel-now called Aist, or stork, because she will not speak-focuses all her being on learning about the rough men who hold her. She learns from the other women-Irish, Norse, Baltic-and helps to care for other, terrified children. Her companions are sold, but fear of her unbroken silence keeps her until an Icelandic chieftain pays extravagantly. Readers, who know her every thought and wild feeling, will marvel at how she maintains that passionate muteness even as Hoskuld carries her, pregnant, to Iceland, through violence and storm. As always, Napoli is a spellbinding storyteller, her prose rich in details both tender and blood-soaked. From the texture of embroidery to the odor of sheep dung, her language is vivid, precise, cinematic. (Historical fiction. 12-15)
From the Publisher
"Spellbinding." — Kirkus, starred review

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Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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2 MB
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Donna Jo Napoli is the acclaimed and award-winning author of many novels, both fantasies and contemporary stories. She won the Golden Kite Award for Stones in Water in 1997. Her novel Zel was named an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a Bulletin Blue Ribbon, and a School Library Journal Best Book, and a number of her novels have been selected as ALA Best Books. She is a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband. Visit her at

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Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
What would you do if you were torn away from your life and everything you knew and forced into slavery? If you were taken to new places where people spoke different languages than you, how would you persevere?

Meet Melkorka, the oldest daughter of an Irish king. As members of royalty, Melkorka and her brother, Nuada, and sister, Brigid, enjoy life at the top of the social structure. In Dublin, travelers from around the world gather to sell their wares. The "heathen" Vikings are among them. Melkorka wants nothing more for her birthday than to visit the stores in Dublin with her family and find the perfect brooch for her cape. The trip ends tragically when her brother is attacked in one of the shops. Although Nuada has survived, he is disfigured and, therefore, no longer able to be the future king.

Melkorka's father, the king, develops a plan for revenge against the Viking offenders. The plan involves luring a Viking ship to their town. Melkorka and her younger sister, Brigid, are sent away in the dark of night to assure their safety.

Before they can reach their destination, Melkorka and Brigid are abducted and taken aboard a ship bound for an unknown destination. Although her instinct is to announce her royal status and demand to be treated as such, Melkorka succumbs to the hints from Brigid and the word she has heard her mother utter so often, "Hush." She becomes silent, refusing to speak to her abductors, the other prisoners, or even to scream at the horrors she sees inflicted upon others.

While Brigid manages a daring escape, Melkorka remains captive, forming silent bonds with those she is held prisoner with and captivating one of her abductors. Her silence becomes her strength, an unbreakable and enticing gift. But how will a princess adapt to life as a slave? Will she ever escape or will she remain silenced forever?

HUSH is based on an Icelandic folk tale. Donna Jo Napoli has gone to great lengths to create a story for the princess/slave described in the tale. Her writing draws you into the story; you can almost feel the cold air from the deck of the Viking ship. This is an amazing tale of strength and perseverance in the face of insurmountable challenges. A highly recommended reading experience.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a historical fiction lover and I really enjoy a tale about princesses. This book sounded like a great read. I finished it in one day, but it was not what I expected. The beginning was very attention-grabbing, but towards the end of the book, it got really weird. The ending was pretty horrible. It was overall ok. I have read much better books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a well written book with excellent character development. But I would not recommend it to young readers because of some disturbing things that happened to the main character and her fellow captives. The horrors of slavery are made very clear. There is no happy ending to this book.
carice More than 1 year ago
If you absolutly hate sad endings than you will hate this book.It is briliantly writen and a wonderful story with unforgetable characters.However i personaly hated the ending.I thought it was sad and depresing,but thier are some that might consider the ending as only semi-sad and still enjoy it. This story had me going the entire time I was reading it(last year on thanksgiving)and I was forever hoping for a happy ending so it was a big blow for me to discover that it wasnt what i was hopping for so fervently. This book is about a young irish princess,who is taken abourd a slave ship with her sister. She and her sister deside not to talk so as to make thier origens a secret.Her sister manages to escape but she cant. Eventualy she is sold to a man as a concubine(hore basicaly except they dont have a choice). During the tale I kept waiting for her to somehow make it back with her family. I was disapointed. i wouldnt recomend this book to everyone. But like I said before it is briliantly writen.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hush was a very interesting novel. I was not the least bit disappointed until the end (which made me almost cry). But certainly not every book can have a happy ending, just as reality doesn't always have a happy ending. The ending aside, I loved the book and would recommend it to those with a strong tollerance for sadness. Also, it has some intense moments, so probably not advised for young readers.
AH4 More than 1 year ago
Donna Jo Napoli  takes a heart breaking theme and makes it beautiful in "Hush" With such dark themes as sexual slavery, it's hard to imagine how that would be possible, but she turns the story into one of self-discovery, triumph, and sacrifice. Well done, Napoli!
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