Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Julie's Review: Bitter Greens

Author: Kate Forsyth
Series: None
Publication Date: September 23, 2014
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
Pages: 496
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  historical fiction, fairy tale
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: A wonderful historical fiction novel interwoven with the orgins of a classic fairy tale
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: 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 Margheritas 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.

Review: I love dual point of view novels but this one takes it another step and adds one more point of view. I loved all three views in Bitter Greens but I think I found Charlotte-Rose the most fascinating. She was a strong-willed woman who would not let the constraints of society hold her back. Unfortunately, in the court of Louis XIV, unless he was the one in scandal it was forbidden. Charlotte-Rose was also a gifted storyteller. She could weave a tale for the court that would delight. It is this talent that gave the world Rapunzel as we know it.

Charlotte-Rose's life was one of love, adventure, stories and indulgence. Being on the court of the Sun King was interesting. You were either in favor or out of favor. For someone like Charlotte-Rose who needed her income from being on court, it was important to stay in favor. It's also hard for someone like Charlotte-Rose to be demure when she wants to seize life. Oh and boy did she ever. She led quite the scandalous life.

It is these scandals that cause her to be banished from court and sent by Louis XIV to a convent. Can you imagine being sent to a convent and it's not your choice? How hard would that be to adapt to a life of piousness when you were used to a life of extravagance?  Lucky for her she meets a nun who opens up her creative juices.

The other two stories of Selena and Margherita are intertwined. It is these stories where we get into the darkness of the tale. Fairy Tales didn't originate as happy/cheery stories but rather they were dark. They often detailed the macabre and dark magic. I loved this aspect of the story. I loved that Ms. Forsyth gave the evil witch her own story, it added depth to the story. It was her story, after Charlotte-Rose's, that I found intriguing. Her life wasn't easy but it also didn't excuse her treatment of Margherita.

Ms. Forsyth takes historical fiction to a new level here. This isn't a fairytale retelling, it is the history of the tale and the story of the woman who wrote the story. The details of the time period are phenomenal and it's evident that she did her research.

Each character had their own voice and each was distinctive which was key in moving from chapter to chapter. I enjoyed the time that I spent with each of these women. Each was fascinating and strong in their own way. Each of them overcame and persevered in their life.



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