Author: Kate Forsyth
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Review Copy via St. Martin's Press
Add to: Goodreads
Synopsis: 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 Margherita’s 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.
When I first heard about Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, it was around this time last year and really wished it was available in the US, but alas it wasn’t. Fast forward to later this year and imagine my surprise and delight to open my mailbox and there waiting for me was a review copy! I adored Bitter Greens and took my time reading it because I wanted to savor it and hoped it would never end. Ah, Rapnzel! What a beautiful enchanting story Forsyth has given us.
As for characterization, we have three strong female characters. With regards to the narrative, Forsyth interweaves three narratives; two in the past with one in the present. Set in the 16th and 17th century, Bitter Greens begins with our main heroine, Charlotte-Rose de la Force‘s story. From there we are given the back-story as to why she’s on her way to a convent and we realize she’s been banished from court. We quickly get to know her and she’s a little hard to like at first. She’s strong, outspoken, but it’s also easy to put ourselves in her shoes and you quickly realize she must have been so scared! Her sheer determination to make the best of what she’s given makes Charlotte such a great character. Then we have Margherita’s tale and she’s our Rapunzel. I just loved her! It’s so easy to fall in love with her and applaud her determination to go back to her parents. In most Rapunzel tales (even retellings), the parents aren’t given much of a back-story, but Forsyth lets us spend time with Margherita and her parents. In the end, you too don’t want them to lose her because you can feel their love for their daughter. And finally, we have Selena Leonelli. I won’t go into much detail regarding what role she has and what she means to Charlotte, but I will say that Selena is our witch. And as our villainess, we’re not supposed to like her, but Forsyth makes it difficult not to. She’s had a difficult childhood and experiences something no child should be exposed to. Her quest for vengeance is justifiable and yet, you can’t help but weep for her.
What I really liked about Forsyth’s Bitter Greens are the emotions I felt while reading. You can feel Charlotte’s unease when she arrives at the convent because her future is uncertain. I fell in love with Margherita and her determination to never give up her real identity. I also hated myself for feeling sympathy towards Selena. I mean how can I even care about what happens to the witch in this tale? Forsyth has a talent for making us care. If there is only one complaint, I wish Forsyth had spent a little more time with Selena’s story. I felt what we were given was too little, but at the same time I realize she has to remain a mystery. Perhaps it’s fitting that we don’t know everything about her. Also, I wish Forsyth had expanded the role of the other girls Margherita encounters a little more. I won’t go into detail because it would be a spoiler. While we are given a bit of insight to their fate, I wanted to know them via their own narrative versus what we are told by Selena.
Just a quick note: If you’re the type who likes to be immersed in a story, you might find Bitter Greens to be a bit frustrating. Forsyth dedicates an equal amount of time to Charlotte, Margherita, and Selena, but right as you become comfortable with either of them, the narrative changes and we’re pulled out of the zone. Never fear, there are chapter headings that make note of the changes, but if you’re like me who sometimes disregards them at the start of a new chapter, it can be a bit confusing.
Fans of historical fiction are in for a real treat as Forsyth does a superb great job incorporating historical facts and fiction. We go from a cold convent outside Gascony, France and travel back in time to Italy. Forsyth gives us rich descriptions and you feel as if you’re a part of the story and not just a bystander. I can only imagine the type of research Forsyth must have conducted and her passion for fairy tales is clearly evident. Forsyth includes a Foreword and an Afterword (as well as an Acknowledgements page which she goes into a little more detail about her research). There’s an interesting tidbit regarding Charlotte-Rose de la Force’s Rapunzel and Giambattista Basile’s Petrosinella (which translates to Parsley). Basile’s tale was written something like 60 years before de la Force’s and there’s no evidence to suggest she knew of the tale. I always find such tidbits as fascinating and no doubt after reading Bitter Greens, you’ll look at de la Force a little differently. Perhaps there is some truth in the magical tale Forsyth tells in Bitter Greens. Or at least I’d like to think so.
If you’re a fan of historical fiction or fairytales, I highly recommend Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens. I personally am hoping her backlist becomes available in the US because I can’t wait to read more from her!
A copy of Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens is up for grabs courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and can only be won by those in the US and no POB’s. For other chances to win a copy of Bitter Greens, check out the blog tour schedule organized by HF Virtual Book Tours: here Good luck!
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