16 Feb 2020


ISBN  978-1471172724

Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, and England is in the grip of civil war between renegade King and rebellious Parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even to the remote Tidelands – the marshy landscape of the south coast.  

Alinor, a descendant of wise women, crushed by 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 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.
- Inner Front Cover

The church was grey against a paler sky, the bell tower dark against the darker clouds.
- First Sentence

'One child we had: a daughter as beautiful as a faerie-born child. What did I  know? Only that they had foisted a changeling on me from the moment that I first saw her. Then came Rob - look at him! He could read as soon as he could walk, though I can't spell my name. He knew the herbs as soon as he toddled into her garden. Used to name them by smell. Who smells leaves but a faerie child? They're not my children. Nobody could ever have thought that they were my children! Look at them!'
- Memorable Moment {Page 146}

MY THOUGHTS ...  A mix of romance (a slow burner, for the first hundred or so pages I worried that this was going to be one of those historical romances), political intrigue (in sharp contrast to the rest of the story there's a sub-plot involving parliament and a plot to rescue King Charles, a story line I personally found tedious despite the masterful picture it painted of the conflict between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, the old religion and the newand accusations of witchcraft. Set not in the Royal Court as were her most recent books but the marshy Sealsea Island, its main character, Alinor, not royalty but a 'mere' woman; a midwife and herbalist who in many ways put me in mind of Jacquetta in the author's The Lady Of The Rivers (see my review here) except ... 

Set in the midst of a civil war, an army of Puritans led by Oliver Cromwell has dethroned King Charles and, unlike Jacquetta, Alinor is not of noble lineage nor sadly is she as feisty. 

OK, I get it, a beautiful woman, her skills as a herbalist and mid-wife already raising suspicions of witchcraft (for goodness sake her cottage smells sweet unlike the hovels of her neighbours which smell of excrement and body odour and if this isn't proof I don't know what is), Alinor can't be seen as being too empowered but, as wet as the tidelands she inhabits, endlessly agreeable, there just wasn't any oomph about her what so ever and, oh my goodness, for a woman intent on staying out of trouble she made one bad decision after another that were guaranteed to get her into exactly that.

And yet ...

A master at bringing her characters to life; no matter how drab Alinor may have been, from her bringing a baby into the world to seeing an old woman depart it, the story never veered very far from her work; work which I found hugely interesting, the insight into the use of the various herbs fascinating. 

And its not just her characters either. The sights, sounds, smells, the very way of being are palpable. 

A slow burner; a book of what felt like two halves. The first half, meh! I hate to say it but I found it a bit, well, if not exactly boring, dreary at times. The second half however, the second half saw the characters fleshed out, the pace pick up, the intensity and danger increase until I found myself utterly engaged by the turn of events.

SUMMED UP IN A SENTENCE ... A quite different reading experience for those familiar only with her Tudor series; with historical figures mere bit players, Tidelands sees a welcome return to the author's earliest books such as the Wideacre trilogy which have common folk at the heart of them.

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Kelly said...

Hmmm. Well I think I'll hold off on this one for the time being. It's not like I don't have plenty of things to read. ;) Plus, there are still many of her other books I've not gotten around to. (all the Tudor books that followed the Cousins' War series) I read Wideacre back before it was a trilogy and, though I know I liked it, have no memory of the storyline.

Brian Joseph said...

This sounds interesting. I have not read Gregory but I would like to. Though I might like this, I think that I would start with one of her more famous books.

nightwingsraven said...

Thank you for your honest and
excellent review. Although, I
suspect I would appreciate this
book, I am still uncertain about

DMS said...

I haven't read one of Gregory's books in a while- but I did love the Tudor series. Her writing has a way of transporting me in time into the scenes she is describing. Interesting to learn about this book. Thanks for sharing your honest review. :)