England 1648. A dangerous time for a woman to be different . . .
While Philippa Gregory’s historical novels may be familiar to you, this is a little different to her previous books. In the past she has focussed on real historical characters and royal settings, in Tidelands, Gregory moves into fiction that is set in a real period and place, but has ordinary characters at the centre.
The book opens in 1648, during the English Civil War and includes one of the many failed attempts to rescue Charles I before his trial. This was the first time when the people of England united to control the power of the English king and is a turning point for the men, and especially the women of England. If the king – the father of the nation – could be challenged, then daughters and wives could speak for themselves.
The struggle of the period reaches every corner of the kingdom, even to the remote tidelands – the marshy landscape of coastal Sussex in England. It’s here we meet Alinor, a descendant of wise women, crushed by poverty and superstition.
Alinor supports her son and daughter with her midwifery skills, which, as a woman alone, only draws attention to herself. Her fisherman husband is missing – she is neither wife nor widow. She waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive marriage. Instead she meets James, a young Catholic priest on the run. The meeting is life-altering. She shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.
Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbours. This is the time of witch-mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.
Tidelands was impossible to put down. It’s the perfect blend of grand sweeping historical events, and the gritty, gripping, personal tales of Alinor and her family. Alinor is a compelling character trying to protect those she loves in dangerous times, and her relationship with James held me spellbound. The setting is perfect – dreary marshlands that add weight to the tension. The time period is vividly described, and you literally feel the crushing weight of class and poverty, and the constraints experienced by women, particularly those in lower classes. This is especially apparent when Alinor’s daughter, Alys and the son of a wealthy farmer fall in love – an impossible match. Gregory’s writing literally sings along – this is not a heavy historical. It’s polished and easy to read, spanning love and heartbreak and tremendous struggle. The final hundred pages are utterly gripping, sweeping us along to an ending that will linger in your thoughts for a long time to come.
It can’t end there! There must be more? Fortunately there is.
This is the first book in The Fairmile Series, and I can’t wait to see what happens next for Alinor and her descendants. A must read!
About the author:
Philippa Gregory is the author of many New York Timesbestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl, and is a recognized authority on women’s history. Many of her works have been adapted for the screen including The Other Boleyn Girl. Her most recent novel, The Last Tudor, is now in production for a television series. She graduated from the University of Sussex and received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is a Regent. She holds honorary degrees from Teesside University and the University of Sussex. She is a fellow of the Universities of Sussex and Cardiff and was awarded the 2016 Harrogate Festival Award for Contribution to Historical Fiction. She is an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. She founded Gardens for the Gambia, a charity to dig wells in poor rural schools in The Gambia, and has provided nearly 200 wells. She welcomes visitors to her website.