Book Review: The Abbess of Whitby

11 Dec

51QQj3v5JEL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_The dramatic story of a seventh-century evangelist.

Chosen as Eostre’s handmaid, Hild will serve the fertility goddess for a year before being wed. Her future is predictable until King Edwin claims her as kin and she learns that her father was murdered.

Her first love is given a command in Edwin’s forces and vanishes from her life, wed to her sister. The court is baptized, ending the old religion and Hild’s role. Life looks bleak. She can’t stop wondering who killed her father.

Suspecting Edwin, she challenges him, only to be married off to safeguard his northern frontier. Struggling in a loveless marriage, she is intrigued by the Iona priests making pilgrimages to spread Christ s love. When home and family are lost in Oswy s sack of Edinburgh, she finds herself in enemy hands, but meets the charismatic Aidan.

Inspired and guided by him, she builds communities to live and teach Christ’s love. She attracts followers. Even her old enemy, King Oswy, entrusts his child to her, gives her Whitby, and seeks her help to reconcile divisions in his kingdom.

She never ceases battling against old superstitions resurrected by storm, plague, and solar eclipse, but at last she receives a bishop s blessing from a man she trained herself.

Jill Dalladay is a classicist, historian, and former head teacher who pioneered the Cambridge Latin course. She lives in Whitby, England.


My Impressions:

In a time of low literacy, pagan worship and a male dominated society, Hild of Whitby was a great woman of learning and influence in the early church in England. In The Abbess of Whitby, Jill Dalladay successfully creates a story of love, grace and redemption out of a murky past. If you are looking for a novel that exemplifies the passion for the gospel combined with a riveting historical narrative, then you need to check this one out.

The novel begins when 12 year old Hild, the cousin of King Edwin of Deria, has been chosen as Eoster’s maid. Fully immersed in the lore of the pagan gods who determine everthing — success in war and crops and fertility — Hild embraces the life she has been given. Life in the royal court in 7th century England is not glamorous, but consists of hard work, deprivation and constant political intrigue and war. And as a woman, Hild must fulfill her duties to king and husband. But the old ways are slowly being replaced by a new God who is personal and sacrifices Himself instead of demanding sacrifice.

The Abbess of Whitby is a well-crafted historical novel. Dalladay does a wonderful job of putting the reader right in the middle of a very foreign world. Seventh century England is very different from our modern world. Just the day to day routines of life seem overwhelming without modern sanitation, medicine and technology. There is also the constant struggle for prominence and power by the leaders of the day. Alliances are built and betrayed, wars are fought, territory is traded, but life continues to go on. Hild’s character dominates the narrative. Building on the historical record, Dalladay creates a very plausible and intriguing picture of the woman who established religious houses, trained young men to the gospel work and helped to broker peace within the early church. The Abbess of Whitby is not dry and dusty, but a personal view of a woman who sought answers to the complex questions of life. And while the writing style took a bit of getting used to, and I wished there had been a glossary of Anglo-Saxon terms, I found this novel to be beautifully written and relevant to our modern day life. Yes, life in the 7th century was different, but people haven’t changed that much. Fourteen hundred years after Hild’s death, men still long for peace in a chaotic and confusing world.

For those who love historical fiction, The Abbess of Whitby is a recommended read.


Audience: adults.

Great for book clubs.

To purchase this book, click HERE.

(Thanks to Kregel and Lion Hudson for a review copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)




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