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
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
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
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.
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)