The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love
French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens...
After Margherita’s father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.
Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does.
Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman.
I have been waiting for Australian author Kate Forsyth's books to become available in the US, and it's finally happening! Bitter Greens has been on my wishlist since I first saw it, and while I was a little wary at the beginning of the multiple viewpoints and how the narrative moves back and forth in time, my fears were soon laid to rest. This is an ambitious and beautifully written tale of epic proportions whose strength lies in the strength of the women who tell it.
We begin with Charlotte-Rose, second cousin to the French King Louis XIV and longtime member of his court, who has just displeased the king once again, and this time he's banished her to a convent as punishment. For our fun-loving, quick-witted, sharp-tongued lass, this is quite a blow.
I had thought I could bend the world to my will. I had thought I could break free of society's narrow grooves, forging a life of my own desire. I had thought I was the navigator of my soul's journey. I was wrong.
Charlotte-Rose lives to write stories, though she is not permitted even paper and pen in her stark prison. So she begins to relish time spent with one of the nuns, Sister Seraphina, who is surprisingly familiar with the world outside the convent and the whims of rich and powerful men. As the two women work together in the convent garden, she begins to tell Charlotte-Rose the story of another woman locked away behind stone walls, that of beautiful young Margherita of Venice, stolen from her parents as a child, raised up in a convent, and then imprisoned in an ancient tower by La Bella Strega, a renowned witch and enchantress. Margherita's story is interwoven with flashbacks of pivotal moments in Charlotte-Rose's life and with the story of the sorceress's rise to power and her interactions with Margherita, and on to Margherita's well-earned happy ending, which gives Charlotte-Rose the inspiration and determination to reach for her own as well.
I love when authors take lesser-known women from history and give them a stage upon which to shine, and Ms. Forsyth manages to include several of them in this novel. Not only do we get to know Charlotte-Rose but also Madame de Montespan and several other illustrious ladies of the sun court, and she also includes La Voisin, the fortune-teller at the center of the Affaires des Poisons that rocked the French court in 1679. Each woman's story illustrates the plight of women of all stations during these times. Ms. Forsyth even manages to humanize the fictional Selena Leonelli, the sorceress who traps Margherita in the tower. As the orphaned daughter of a courtesan, she learns to use her beauty and cunning to become muse and lover of the artist Tiziano Vecellio, also known as Titian, and to rise up as the most sought-after and powerful courtesan in Venice. But that beauty and power comes at great cost...
You must understand that your beauty is as much a curse as it is a blessing. It will give you power, if you use it wisely. But it does mean that you must choose your sphere of influence. There are only three choices for women in this world that we live in. You can be a nun, or a wife, or a whore. Which will you choose?
The author also casts a shadow on Louis XIV and shows us the darker side of the Sun King through his insistence on absolute rule, his womanizing, his ruthlessness in dealing with those who oppose him, and his persecution of the Huguenots. Indeed, I was very impressed with Ms. Forsyth's ability to seamlessly weave the dark elements that dominated the 16th and 17th centuries in France and Italy--witchcraft, religious persecution, hysteria, plague, and the relationships between them--into one multi-layered story.
My only complaint, if you can even call it that, is that I thought the plot was a little uneven. I know it's hard to weave together three different stories in different time periods, and even with the best of planning, something is bound to fall through the cracks. So there were some times when I felt like something that I would have thought was important didn't get page time, and where something I didn't think was as important got a lot of page time. And I did figure out the story's twist early on but was still excited by it and anxious to see how everything would play out in the end for these three brave women, who, on the surface appeared to be as different as night and day, but who actually shared many traits in common, not the least of which was the desire to love and be loved in return.
Overall, this was an absorbing, transporting read. Though it does not shy away from the darkness that dwelt in those days and the injustices often committed against women, it is full of beauty and bright moments, of appreciation for the best life has to offer even when confronted with the worst. Providing a fascinating glimpse into the glory days of Venice and Versailles, it's a delicious treat for historical fiction devotees and a must-read for fairy tale lovers.
My Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
This giveaway is closed and the winner has been selected.
Check my sidebar for more great giveaways!
Want to win a paperback of Bitter Greens?
Simply leave a comment on this post with your email address (or an alternate method of contacting you if you win), and you're entered!
This giveaway is open to US residents and ends at 11:59pm Wednesday, October 22, 2014. Winner will be selected at random.
Thanks, and good luck!
Thanks, and good luck!
Bitter Greens is on a blog tour!