'An utterly captivating
reinvention of the Rapunzel fairytale weaved together with the
scandalous life of one of the tale's first tellers, Charlotte-Rose de la
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. 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...
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, sixty-four
years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of
Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and
betrayal, love and superstition, retaining her youth and beauty by the
blood of young red-haired girls.
After Margherita's father steals
a handful of parsley, wintercress and rapunzel from the walled garden
of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both
hands cut off unless he and his wife give away their little red-haired
girl. And so, when she turns seven, Margherita is locked away in a
tower, her hair woven together with the locks of all the girls before
her, growing to womanhood under the shadow of La Strega Bella, and
dreaming of being rescued...
Three women, three lives, three
stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire,
obsession, black magic and the redemptive power of love.' - Goodreads
As I'm sure you're all aware by now Kate Forsyth is one of my favorite authors. I fell in love with her Witches Of Eileanan back in 2000 and waited patiently for two years as the last two books came out. Since then, I've read everything she's written and, as pointed out here, I try and recommend her books to anyone! Sadly her Eileanan books are out of print in the UK which is a huge shame, I hope that won't always be the case - mainly because my copies are all a little worn!
Now, combine my love of Kate Forsyth's writing and my love of all things fairy tale and you start to get a vague impression of how excited I was to discover that she'd written a book about Rapunzel! Rapunzel is one of my favorite well-known fairy tales so I was looking forward to seeing how she managed something fresh. And oh my, I wasn't disappointed. In fact, I think I found my book of the year!
Historical fiction and fantasy are skillfully bound together to create a unique story that had me hooked from page one. I don't really know much about French history or the time of Louis XIV but it didn't matter. The descriptions of the court, the people and the time along with all the fine details were breathtaking.
The stories of three very different women were woven together seamlessly and without confusion considering the differing time periods and locations. The story starts with Charlotte-Rose (Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, the author of Persinette and other fairy tales in the late seventeenth century) being banished from court and confined to a convent having displeased the King. The convent is a horrifying place for Charlotte, used to all the trappings of aristocracy but life becomes bearable thanks to company of Soeur Seraphina who takes her under her wing in the convent garden. The story of Charlotte is then merged into that of Margherita, the 'Rapunzel' of our tale. Taken from her parents in exchange for bitter greens (parsley, wintercress and rapunzel) she is locked away, first in a convent and then in an abandoned tower, one with no doors or windows and only her hair to allow the arrival or departure of La Strega or Selena Leonelli as she is first known, a courtesan and witch in sixteenth century Venice.
We get to see how Selena became the vengeful witch we all know her as, going from beloved daughter to witch's apprentice and discovering the secret of eternal youth and beauty. This part of the story was told so well and with such feeling I felt sympathy for the 'bad guy', it was easy to see how she followed the path she did and to see her as human. Margherita too was a strong character. Rather than giving up and believing that her parents were cruel enough to abandon her she remained convinced that she would see them again. She held strong to her belief that she would find happiness and that her prince would come although in the end, she rescued herself as did Selena and Charlotte albeit in different ways. All three women were strong, resourceful and independent which was a nice twist away from the usual heroines of fairy tales. The ending of Bitter Greens was perfect. I shan't spoil anything by giving away the identity of one of the main characters but I will say it never even crossed my mind that this person was who they turned out to be!
What really made my enjoyment of Bitter Greens even more complete for me was the addition of various poetical interpretations of Rapunzel throughout the book, some by authors I have read or am familiar with and also by authors that I haven't heard of. Such was my appreciation of the book and how well it was written that it makes me want to finish my meagre scribblings and get right back into research mode! For her first adult novel, after so many successful children's books, Bitter Greens, to me at least, was perfect and I will certainly be rereading it again over the years. The really exciting news though is that this isn't the only Kate Forsyth book we have to look forward to this year! The Wild Girl, which I featured here, is out in July and I cannot wait to read it!