Fifteen-year-old Melkorka, a princess from the kingdom of Downpatrick in Medieval Ireland, is kidnapped with her younger sister Brigid by a Russian slave trader, and is taken by ship to places unknown. Determined to preserve any small advantage available, Melkorka resolves to remain mute so that her captors will not be able to learn anything about her; who she is, where she is from, or what she is thinking. When an opportunity arises, Brigid makes her escape by leaping into the sea. Melkorka does not know if her sister lives or dies. Alone among strangers, she maintains her silence, which has the effect of surrounding her with an aura of mystery. The head of the slave traders, Gilli, becomes convinced Melkorka is a stork with magical abilities, including the power to change into a woman. Fearful, he watches over her and treats her with careful deference while she is in his possession.
When the slave ship arrives in Miklagard, half a world away from Ireland, Melkorka is bought by a Viking chieftain, Hoskuld, to be his concubine. Her silence once again protects her, allowing her to maintain her sense of self when she is physically violated. On the long journey to Hoskuld's home in faraway Iceland, Melkorka learns the art of healing from an old woman who ministers to the sailors' ills. As she becomes immersed in the strange and violent ways of Viking culture, she discovers that her master has a good heart despite his barbaric ways. Hoskuld is enchanted with Melkorka's beauty, and, short of setting her free, clearly desires her to be happy. Realizing that she will never see her homeland again, and discovering that she is carrying Hoskuld's child, Melkorka accepts the inevitable and resolves to make a home for herself and her soon-to-be-born child in Iceland. She will use her influence over Hoskuld to persuade him to free his slaves, and, because he is a powerful chieftain, she is confident that others will follow his lead. Only when her son is born will Melkorka speak again, to share with him the language and lore of her beloved Ireland.
Impeccably researched, Donna Jo Napoli's 2007 young adult novel is a unique and riveting story set in Ireland, Russia, and Scandinavia in the early tenth century. Based on an ancient Icelandic saga, Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale is gritty and authentic, with an exceptionally dynamic central character.