It is not fantasy in that there is no real magic, though Hild and her contemporaries believe firmly in elfs, witches, omens, curses, and gods, and are quite willing to entertain a relationship with the new god of Rome if it serves their needs-- but is very much a world of fantasy for them from their point of view because they believe in its magic. It is utterly believable how they got to that point: their lives are beholden to the land they live on: good crops, healthy animals, and weather decide directly who lives and who dies. Griffith's in depth description of this interrelationship between these people and their capricious lands is beyond perfection. And the lengths at which people go to maintain their ties with power without a moral blink is absolutely chilling. Hild's mother aborts babies and kills a queen to secure her children's place in the world. Hild herself volunteers to go on a "butcher bird's" pogrom against marauding thieves. It is part and parcel of survival in this lyrical, perilous world.
The writing is beautiful. "The string-thin paths of early spring were wider now, wide enough for the queen and Hild to walk abreast. The soft green tapestry of the woods was stitched with the bright gleam of birdcall, too many birds to name." and "When she thought at all, she thought in British, the language of the high places, of wild and wary and watchful things. A language of resistance and elliptical thoughts." and "The wine made him happy. When you understood what made people happy, you understood them."
I would have liked Hild to have been more introspective, more emotional, more humorous perhaps -- and perhaps the author will work to bring the newly married seer and lady out of her environment and into her own in the sequel to this book which is currently being written.
Lessons for Writers: Knowing how the characters intimately are a part of their environment is key, and knowing the intimate details of those connections makes the world complete and compelling.
To learn more, visit Nicola Griffith.