On Hist Fic Saturday
Let's go back to ...1648
20 August 2019
The Fairmile Series #1
Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, and England is in the grip of a 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 neighbors. 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.
What did I think about it..
The English Civil war pitted family against family, brother against brother and father against son, and everywhere there was discordance and suspicion, and for a woman, without a man to protect her, trying to eke out a living was a dangerous and lonely time. Alinor does what she can to keep a meagre roof above her head and tries with her limited resources to keep a close watch on her son and daughter, hoping that by some miracle she can continue, despite her husband's mysterious absence, to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. On Midsummer's Eve, when the dead are presumed to walk, Alinor waits by the church for news of her missing husband, but instead she meets James, a young man with dark and deadly secrets of his own, and from that fateful first meeting James and Alinor's fates are sealed.
Following on from this author's acclaimed Plantagenet and Tudor series of novels, Tidelands sees a welcome return to more romantic historical fiction rather than based purely om the lives of Kings and Queens, and even though Charles I does make an appearance in the novel, this is about the Civil War after all, he doesn't dominate the story. Instead the narrative follows the relationship between Alinor and James and of the troubled times in which they are living.
As always the historical background is exceptionally good and the Sussex tidal lands are beautifully described with a melancholy air which lingers throughout the story. There is unrest and suspicion, particularly against Alinor, and many in this remote village of just a hundred souls view her skill as a healer with more than a touch of misgiving, and even when they visit for herbal cures they're never entirely comfortable with her.
Within this first story there's a certain amount of scene setting which makes the story a little bit slow in places but that didn't stop me from enjoying the book, or of wondering where the story will go to in the next installment. I rather liked the romantic element which sets the scene for whatever is to come as the series progresses, and as this is only book one, I suspect we have a way to go before everything is Alinor's troubled life is laid to rest.
Years ago I read and enjoyed The Wise Woman by this author and there are the same elements of witchcraft and superstition in Tidelands which appeal to my imagination. And even though this book was first published in the summer time I do think it particularly lends itself to this time of year as we approach Halloween especially with all the superstition which still plays around witchcraft and magic.
Tidelands is published in hardback and is available from all good book retailers.
Philippa Gregory is the author of many bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl, and is a recognised authority on women's history.