If you want a rah-rah-sis-boom-bah blog post, this isn't it.

Once, I considered myself a fan of Donna Jo Napoli; at least, I would recommend her work. However, after a rather disastrous reviewing of Skin, I realized that the only book I actually liked of hers was Beast, and even that book had some really strange passages in it. Like the lion mating. I suppose it's meant to be edgy, but it freaked me out as a preteen. Ew. The rest of the book was rather good, though. I am a sucker for a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I've not yet read Bound, but I don't know if I want to after making it only 19% of the way through Hidden before calling it quits.

I'm vaguely familiar with the backstory (thanks, other Goodreads reviewers of Hush), and I generally enjoy books with a Norse setting. If this had been written as a more straightforward adventure/escape story, I think I would feel more kindly toward it. But there's this whole hipster stylistic thing going on that made me groan. 

Then, there was the birth scene. But I'm running ahead of myself. The setup:

Brigid and her siblings fled their home in Ireland, where they are royalty, because Brigid's sister refused to marry the man who cut off her brother's hand. Okay, that's legitimate. However, I gather that mom and dad just popped them on a pony and said, "Hey, have a great life!" which is not practical at all. En route to ... wherever, they're captured by Russian slavers. Melkorka, Brigid's older sister, ends up as a slave, and her story is told in Hush. When Hidden begins, Brigid has just jumped off the boat near Denmark and takes refuge in a barn. At this point, she is eight years old.

The main point of concern is the Vicious Man-Eating Pigs in the barn. Yes, I understand that pigs will eat human flesh and can be quite vicious, but I think Napoli might have a porcine vendetta, because she portrays swine as Utterly Evil. As Brigid enters the barn, she relates, "I concentrate. I musn't fall. I musn't release my hands. A taste of my blood could excite hungry pigs into a frenzy. How hungry are these pigs?" Okay, she's eight, and maybe her brother told her scary stories involving pigs. Later, a pig headbutts Brigid awake. "If I don't react fast and hard, the lot of them will attack. I go rigid; I've seen pig attacks. Though these pigs are short, I know they can get vicious ..." Then shepunches a pig in the eye and gets all weepy about it. Yes, I know, she's eight. A whimpering, sniveling, unlikeable, pampered eight-year old who says things like, "It's unfair I had to fight the pig. It's unfair I'm here at all." Wah.
This picture from the Telegraph came up when I ran a search for "vicious pigs." It was too bizarre not to share.
I cannot believe I devoted a whole paragraph to Death by Pig.

When she's not fighting pigs, Brigid hides in the hay and tries not to get caught. This next scene ... okay, full disclosure: I thought it was an unnecessarily graphic description of a drunken man having a poo. "He lurches forward, and though his back is to me, I can tell he's sick. He groans in pain. He yanks wildly at the drawstring on his trousers and now he's ripping them off. He squats and he's stifling yells, I'm sure of it. His head writhes on his neck and the pain goes on and on. Misery like that can only come from a struggle with the devil." It isn't until this "man" yanks out a baby and tosses it to the pigs that I realized it wasn't an epic battle with constipation, but rather childbirth. 

For the third time: yes, I realize that at this point, the narrator is eight years old. But her other comments make her seem very experienced in the ways of life and death. How do you not notice the difference between pooping and having a baby? Do babies really smell like rotten eggs, like Brigid says? And when she starts licking the baby clean ... my stomach did some serious acrobatics. 

One day, she decides that she and Og, the baby, can't survive in the barn any longer, so she goes to the house, where the Norse family immediately decides she must be an elf and Og her elf-baby. Logic? Anyone? As I kept reading, I kept not caring what happened to anybody. I guess eventually Brigid becomes a lady-pirate and nets herself a Man, as any self-respecting lady-pirate does. At this point I was just rolling my eyes so hard and simultaneously thinking of all the other Norse stories I could have been reading that I gave up. 

To be fair, Napoli does give a nicely thorough author's note in the back, with sources, but I don't know of many teens who would particularly care.

I personally would not recommend this, but if you're a die-hard Napoli fan and don't mind the menace of Flesh-Eating Pigs, go right ahead with this one.

I received an ARC from Netgalley.

Also, regarding the cover: I know authors have pretty much zero say over their cover art, which is totally rotten, but I am about 99% sure 10th century Irish princesses didn't wear seafoam chiffon dresses.


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