Review by Shellie for Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth.
Shellie’s quick take: A wonderful women’s historical fiction story set in Renaissance Italy and France, layered with the fairytale of Rapunzel and a slight touch of dark magic.
Shellie’s description: It’s France, June of 1666 (note all the 6’s) and Charlotte-Rose de la Force, an actual person and writer, has been banished from the court of King Louis XIV due to scandalous behavior. The king has forced her to live in a secluded convent where she serendipitously hears the story of Rapunzel from an old nun.
But it’s more complicated than that, with it’s layered and convoluted storylines. There are a bunch of things which add to its complexity - in front of each section are poems about Rapunzel written by other writers; the author has included operatic titles for each section of the book and the way the story builds has an operatic feel to it; and each of the key characters’ stories are told within the story of the others. Charlotte-Rose tells her story in first person, while Soeur Seraphina tells the fairytale to Charlotte-Rose, Margherita is the child that has been banished to a secluded tower, and Selena Leonelli (La Strega Bella) is the gorgeous witch. We get an involved tale about each of these key characters, all mixed up and blended together nicely.
Shellie’s thoughts: Bitter Greens is well written and drew me in, with just enough historical details to give it depth and cultural context. And despite the complexity of the format for the story it is mostly easy to read and follow. I believe I was only confused once or twice when reading the trials of one of the many characters. I liked that the author takes the reader into 17th century France and 16th century Italy and that the character Charlotte-Rose was a real person. It was interesting to find out more about the court of King Louis XIV and the role that women played in society at the time. Also intriguing were the histories around the religious strife that occurred during his reign, as well as the complexities of Italian life and living in the time of the Black Death in Venice during the 1500’s.
Since I love to read and like the feel of real books, I want to mention that the lovely hardbound version of the book is easy to handle and well organized. It contains its operatic storyline sections listed in the first part of the book, there are also chapter titles and dates included for each of the sections, and poems are listed in front of the chapters. I liked that the chapters are typically short and that there are sometimes shorter sections broken down within the chapters, so that it is easy to dip in and out of the book.
All in all a terrific book that will appeal to women readers who like fairytale retellings, enjoy a touch of the magical in their reads, like strong and dark female characters, and love historical fiction. It is definitely a woman’s book. I also loved how the story ended which, importantly for me, is not one of those fantastical happily-ever-after conclusions. 4.5 stars for this page turning historical fiction with a touch of fantasy. It was a complete pleasure to read.
September 23, 2014 | Thomas Dunne Books for St. Martin’s Press | Hardcover | 496 pages
This review is part of a tour. You can link to our host’s website and the book’s tour page by linking on the above badge which will give you more links to other reviews and more for the book.
If you are interested in a little bit more information on the two key historical characters in this book, link on their names in the top paragraph to visit their Wikipedia pages.
Also we are hosting a giveaway for Bitter Greens. You can enter the contest by clicking on the previous text.