Review No.6 – Bitter Greens

Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth

Vintage, 2012

I discovered this book through a giveaway on Rowena Cory Daniells’ blog in a case of perfect timing, having only just seen my version of Rapunzel published in To Spin a Darker Stair. There is a unique thrill in winning things, in particular thick attractively-covered books, and I’ve been looking forward to reading this one ever since it arrived. It did not disappoint.

Charlotte-Rose de la Force has weathered many scandals in her time at the glittering court of Louis XIV, from outrageous love affairs to accusations of witchcraft, but in 1697 her luck finally runs out. Exiled to a poverty-stricken nunnery where even her beloved pen and ink are taken from her, Charlotte-Rose is in despair. Her only comfort comes from an unexpected source. An eccentric elderly nun tells her the story of Margherita, a young girl traded to a sorceress for no more than a handful of bitter greens. Imprisoned in a tower, Margherita sings to the empty sky, dreaming of rescue – and one day, she is heard…

Dark and powerful, a book of lives as bitter as they are sweet, Bitter Greens mingles history and fairy tale into so rich a web it’s difficult to tell invention from truth. More importantly, it makes distinguishing the two irrelevant until the book is closed. It is not a fairy tale. It is a saga, solidly grounded in realism and juicy with detail. It certainly didn’t make me long for time travel – Forsyth doesn’t shy away from the brutal realities of life in medieval Europe and a woman’s role in it – and I would like to think there were women who found their freedom in less drastic ways than the three protagonists of this story. Even in the darkest times of human history, though, there have been real women like Charlotte-Rose de la Force who defied convention to make their mark on the world. This book celebrates them.

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