Series: Fairmile #1
Published by Atria Books on February 18, 2020
Source: the publisher via NetGalley
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The #1 New York Times bestselling author and "one of the great storytellers of our time" (San Francisco Book Review) turns from the glamour of the royal courts to tell the story of an ordinary woman, Alinor, who cannot bear to conform to the life that lies before her.
Midsummer's Eve, 1648, England is in the grip of a civil war between renegade king and rebellious parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even the remote tidelands --the marshy landscape of the south coast.
Alinor, a descendant of wisewomen, trapped in poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband. Instead, she meets James, a young man on the run, and 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 neighbors. 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.
It is dangerous for a woman to be different.
I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
My intention was to pick Tidelands up and read it slowly, but I devoured it. I could not put it down.
Alinor Reekie is a midwife and herbalist, like her mother and grandmother before her. Her husband has been gone for nearly a year, a fisherman that left on their boat one day and never came back. Without knowing for certain if he is dead or not, Alinor is not quite a widow, but she’s not quite a married woman either. And living in the tidelands, it’s nearly impossible to have any sort of success and comfort in life without being married.
Alinor is close to the earth. She lives near the water, but she fears it. She is not afraid of hard work because she knows her station in life. She is exceptional at things like milking cows and baking bread, at working with her hands outside on her landlord’s farm and making the ale that they all drink. She sells fish and lobsters to earn a little extra money for her family. She also works with wool and making oils. She does everything, and she is way more of a woman that I could ever be. But she cannot help that she was born to her exact station and that her husband turned out to be a deadbeat, and this sealed her fate as poor, poor, poor when he left.
I haven’t read anything else by Philippa Gregory before, so I have no concept for her historical fictions involving life at court with queens and princesses and the like. But I do know that she wrote this poor woman’s English life beautifully. Alinor describes the tidelands as “Neither sea or shore. Neither wet or dry and no-one ever leaves.” That is exactly how life is looking for the Reekie family, with daughter Alys in desperate need of a dowry in order to even think about marrying and son Rob without any prospects in the absence of his father. Fortunately for Alinor, she meets a holy man by chance early in the story and BOOM! this opens worlds of opportunities for her family.
Alinor has to tread lightly, though, because things like special chances make her stand out, as if she has spoken a spell and good fortune has come to her. She also has to tread lightly because many of the people in her community equate being a herbalist and healer with using spells and witchcraft, and whispers of witching is one of the worst things that could ever happen to a woman in 1648 England.
I COULD NOT GET ENOUGH OF THIS STORY. I could not imagine it being any better and more interesting to me. The details and descriptions are delicious, and more than once I went to the internet to learn more about objects that were used or to learn more about the details of the war between King Charles I and Parliament. (King Charles believed in his divine right to rule, the right given to him by God, and this was the beginning of some huge changes in England.) It was riveting! This book is well-researched and meticulous, and I felt like I was standing inside of the story watching and hearing everything unfold around me. I felt BIG emotions and I held my breath, anticipating some things that I dare not mention, because spoilers. OH it was so good. AND THAT ENDING!! I am desperate for the next installment. DESPERATE for it.
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