A wonderfully lyrical and stunning piece of historical fiction, Melissa Ashley’s The Bee and the Orange Tree transports you to Paris 1699, while telling the captivating and forgotten story of Baroness Marie Catherine D’Aulnoy, the inventor of fairy tales.
In 1699, Paris was close to bursting with the creative energy of fierce, independent-minded women. But their freedoms were limited, and were being curbed more and more. The patriarchal forces of Louis XIV and the Catholic Church were in full force. But females had a powerful ally and secret weapon in this battle for equality: Baroness Marie Catherine D’Aulnoy and her invention of ‘fairy tales’.
Marie Catherine’s daughter, Angelina, arrives in Paris for the first time, completely swept away by the beauty, glamour and sensuality of the city. She has lived in a convent previously and Paris is a world where a woman can live freely, without needing to be within the church, or safely married. It is a world of exciting new possibilities. But these new possibilities and then fragile freedom are under attack, which Angelina learns quickly when her mother’s friend Nicola Tiquet is arrested, accused of conspiring to murder her abusive husband. As Angelina and Marie Catherine race to rescue Nicola, and discover the truth, all three women will have their illusions shattered, and learn of dark secrets that have been kept well-hidden. They will learn just how far they are willing to go to preserve their liberty and freedom in a time and place determined to control them.
Melissa Ashley’s debut novel The Birdman’s Wife was a bestseller, so her second novel, The Bee and the Orange Tree has been keenly awaited, and it is easy to understand why. Her writing is beautifully descriptive, describing the minute details of the clothing, the hairstyles, the architecture of the time, so much that you can almost even taste and smell the food, as if you were sitting down to banquet with the characters. The sheer amount of research that has gone into this book is astounding. You would be forgiven for having been completely transported to Paris 1699.
Ashley also does a remarkable job of restoring an amazing, yet little-known historical woman to her rightful place in history. Fairy tales are often thought to be a simple part of everyday life, but often we don’t think about where they were invented. And when we do, it is usually Hans Christian Andersen or The Grimm Brothers that come to mind. To find out that there was a woman, some 100+ years earlier who was writing fairy tales was an amazing revelation. The Bee and the Orange Tree is beautiful, an enchanting, intriguing, rich tale of the strength of women and of writing, and of the power of the imagination.