(Simon & Schuster, $30)

Forget the cliché about women of the distant past having too little autonomy to carry a novel, said Amal El-Mohtar in NPR.org. This “fierce, brilliant, and accomplished” book brings to life a 7th-century England in which women worked in every corner of the economy because no family could survive any other way. At its center stands a sharply intelligent girl who’ll become St. Hilda of Whitby, a woman who helped convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. “Step by step, thought by thought,” we watch as her attentiveness wins the trust of Northumbria’s king. Hild remains less a work of high art than “a gussied-up fantasy novel,” said Michael Robbins in the Chicago Tribune. Griffith at times doesn’t fully digest her research, and some sexually charged scenes get as steamy as anything in Game of Thrones. But “a good fantasy novel needs no special pleading.” This is the kind of book—even at 500 pages—that you read in just a few sittings, “glad to follow the meandering plot from intrigue to intrigue.”