Author: Philippa Gregory
Published: August 20th 2019
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
England 1648. A dangerous time for a woman to be different . . .
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.
‘This is a big ambition, and it is going to be, I hope, a big series, starting with this novel of an obscure and isolated area of England during the English Civil War. The main character, Alinor, is entirely fictional but representative of the working women of her time: excluded from power, from wealth and education, but nonetheless making lives for themselves as best they can.’
Dear Reader, Philippa Gregory, Tidelands
A few years back Philippa Gregory decided that she wanted to pen a historical fiction series that traced an ordinary family, consisting of a lesser known woman, across many generations. So Tidelands, Gregory’s latest release, was born. Tidelands represents the first book in the Fairmile series. It is a story of civil war, love, superstition, oppression, sacrifice, secrets and ambition. The English civil war plays out in the background as the heroine of this tale, Alinor, struggles to survive in a world that that doesn’t understand her.
Opening in the area of Sussex in 1648, Tidelands immediately settles the reader in the escalating situation faced by the citizens of Tidelands and beyond. The civil war has erupted, sending the King in uproar, and the parliament in chaos. Although Tidelands is an isolated locale, it is not immune from the problems playing out in the capital. The war touches all in the kingdom, and this includes hardworking ‘wise woman’ Alinor, a midwife and the wife of a missing fisherman. Alinor’s difficult life is further complicated when she is touched by the presence of a young man on an escape route. When Alinor extends the hand of help to the troubled man, little does she know that her life will never be the same again. But Alinor is a woman who arouses a great deal of suspicion, from her absent husband, to her healing techniques, and her ability to attend to the births of the women in Tidelands. It is a dangerous time for all, and especially for Alinor.
I am very excited by this new series by historical fiction extraordinaire Philippa Gregory. I have long admired Gregory’s work since I read The Other Boleyn Girl, back in 2007. Since then I have loyally purchased each new release Gregory has written. What I love about Philippa Gregory’s work is her ability to bring to life subjects, and period in history in such an accessible form of narration. To read a Philippa Gregory book is little like receiving an interactive history lesson, never has history been so interesting! I lapped up Tidelands in just one day, what a great new series this provided to be.
Moving away from the royalty and upper class subjects of her usual fare, Gregory looks at another turbulent time in Britain’s history in her new novel. It is the year 1648, and Britain has seen the influence of Oliver Cromwell challenging King Charles I. The country is in uproar and confusion. It seems no part of the country is protected from the chaos that is engulfing Britain. Gregory devotes a great deal of time to setting her scene.
‘Tidelands,’ she confirmed. ‘Neither sea nor shore. Neither wet or dry, and no one ever leaves.’
Tidelands and the historical period is illuminated well, Gregory carefully balances fact, specific period detail, the looming atmosphere of war and the religious fractions, with the emotional experience of those struggling to gain the upper hand over their everyday lives. Tidelands is a book rich in description and tone. Gregory colours her setting and her characters to the fullest degree, especially in the first quarter or so of the novel.
In Alinor, Gregory has taken a very different subject of spectre. Alinor is an ordinary woman, from the lower working class. Alinor’s situation is rather dire, following the disappearance of her husband at sea. It has left Alinor and her two children in a state of despair and struggle. But there are hints early on in this piece that Alinor is a special woman, which is observed almost instantly by James, a priest who is passing through the region. James is immediately spellbound by Alinor.
‘I did not know that there could be a woman like you, in a place like this.’
The sheer level of hard work this family has to endure to remain above board was astounding. I had nothing but sympathy and admiration for Alinor, her daughter, and son. Likewise, there are many other families in the Tidelands region battling to stay afloat, these times were tough and daily living was an act of sheer survival, requiring pure grit.
Gregory also uses Tidelands to explore the suppression of women during this era, through her focus on Alinor and her daughter. Alinor and Alys both have very little choice in their lives, which proves to be a source of contention for mother and daughter.
‘I wish I could see you future,’ Alinor replied seriously. ‘I know you shouldn’t be stuck here, on the side of the mire, and no chance of marrying anyone but a farm lad or a fisherman, and no chance of earning more than pennies.’
When Alys falls in love with a local farmer’s son, but has no dowry to go ahead with a marriage, it causes significant problems . I wasn’t aware of this situation prior to reading Tidelands, and it helped me to see just how dire things were for women of this time. Adding to this complication is Alinor’s predicament, as Alinor is woman who is not quite a widow, but she is also not free to marry again, while her husband is missing. This narrative thread was handled well by Gregory and I found it very engrossing.
In Alinor, we see a woman who possesses a unique gift in healing and herbal medicines. Gregory showcases her knowledge in the art of herbal therapy, superstitions and midwifery practice of the 1600s during these very enlightening sequences. Alinor’s practices attract jealously and suspicion from her neighbours, which saddened me. I appreciated following Alinor’s journey as a wise woman.
Tidelands alternates between the perspectives of Alinor, to James, a priest who is on the run and finds himself disorientated in the marshy surrounds of Alinor’s home. The book opens in Tidelands in June 1648 and moves on in time monthly. The novel also crosses to locales such as The Isle of Wight, France, London and the Netherlands, before concluding in Tidelands again in 1649, after a tumultuous few months. The ending came all too quick for me and I was so invested in Alinor’s story that I can’t wait for the next installment of the Fairmile series.
Tidelands heralds a new chapter in Philippa Gregory’s career. Tidelands marks the beginning of Fairmile, a very promising series, which is absolutely perfect for historical fiction fanatics!
Tidelands by Philippa Gregory was published on 20th August 2019 by Simon & Schuster Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Tidelands, Philippa Gregory, visit here.
*I wish to thank Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.