The Needle of Avocation (Cuthbert’s People)

Written by G. M Baker
Review by Anna Belfrage

Set in 9th-century Northumbria, The Needle of Avocation offers something of a time-travelling experience, immersing the reader more or less immediately in the long-lost past. Our protagonist is the young Hilda, a renowned embroideress—even if she scoffs at people who praise her needlework as the best in the entire kingdom. How can they possibly know that, unless they’ve seen every single piece of embroidery around? But she finds solace in her craft, moments of escape from a life where she has always played second fiddle to her eldest, oh, so beautiful sister, Elswyth. Even now that Elswyth is gone, purportedly abducted by Vikings—not that Hilda believes this: she is of the firm opinion the abduction is a story concocted by her parents to hide the truth—she continues to cast a very long shadow.

It is because of Elswyth that Hilda must wed. She’d prefer not to, despite the fact that her groom is the son and heir of an ealdorman. But the marriage is important to her father—and her grasping mother, who is all for climbing up the social ladder. As Elswyth is no longer around to marry, it falls to Hilda to do her duty, no matter that all she wants to do is sew, preferably in a convent.

Engagingly written with beautifully developed characters and a vividly depicted, well-researched historical backdrop, The Needle of Avocation is a little gem brimming with life and colour. And Hilda—well, who can possibly resist this serious, brutally honest but socially awkward teenager, who over the space of a week leaves childhood behind to blossom into a young but determined and brave woman? Not me! An absolutely wonderful read.