Tidelands by Philippa Gregory
Tidelands is set in England in a bleak and marshy area of the south coast. The year is 1648, and the country is in the midst of what will become known as the second English civil war. Supporters of King Charles 1 are in conflict with the Parliamentarians. Religious ideas are being challenged and nobody trusts anybody else.
The main character of the book is Alinor. She lives in a poverty, in a damp and simple cottage with her two teenage children, a boy and a girl. Her husband has disappeared, but she is in limbo as a single woman – she is neither a wife nor a widow. Until her husband can be declared dead she cannot remarry. Alinor is a midwife and a ‘wise woman’ who has skills in using herbs and in healing. In these suspicious times she risks being labelled as a witch.
On Midsummer Eve she meets James, a priest, and secret supporter of the king. He is on a mission to help the king escape from his exile on The Isle of Wight. Alinor helps James to cross the marsh and directs him to the home of the local lord, who is also a clandestine supporter of the king. In gratitude for her help, James is able to arrange a position in the house for Alinor’s son, which opens up opportunities for Alinor and her family to earn some desperately needed money. Inevitably James and Alinor fall in love, but their relationship must remain secret. James goes away to fulfil his duty to the king and Alinor must carry on wondering if he will ever return.
Phillipa Gregory is a master at bringing history alive in her novels, which makes reading them a treat. She places the reader right in the middle of a time and place of historical significance, while weaving a detailed and engaging story. Her female characters are often strong and determined, facing the challenges of the society of the time. Tidelands is another great story to add to her substantial list.
Reviewer: Rachel White
Simon & Schuster/Harper Collins $37.99