Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Title: Bitter Greens
Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 17th century / 16th century / France / Italy / Royal Court / Convent / Fairy Tale / Venice / Witchcraft)
Publisher/Publication Date: Allison & Busby (2/25/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour

Rating: Loooooooooooooooooooooved.
Did I finish?: Yes, yes I did.
One-sentence summary: Renaissance Venice and 17th century France are connected by three women and one magical fairy tale.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do -- simple but striking.

I'm reminded of...: Emma Donoghue, Edith Pattou

First line: I had always been a great talker and teller of tales.

Did... I love reading about what inspired this novel? YES. Forsyth shares a lovely piece about how the myth and one of this book's heroines, Charlotte Rose de la Force, came to be.

Did... I enjoy the author's list of favorite academic studies of fairy tales?: YES. Her whole blog is a treat -- she's recently interviewed a slew of authors, some familiar, some new, and my TBR has grown as a result!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy -- if you can find it!

Why did I get this book?: Fairy tales retold -- who can say 'no'?!

Review: I feel kind of terrible writing this review because this book is awesome ... and not available in the U.S. (It is available in the UK.) As usual, with a book I love this much, I'm having a hard time writing a coherent review. I really ought to just do a video review so I can wave my hands and make excited noises -- that'd probably convey more.

I'm a sucker for a fairy tale retold, especially when they're placed in a historical era, marrying 'real' with 'fantasy'. In this case, the fairy tale is Rapunzel, and the historical eras are 17th century France and 16th century Venice. Told in a story-within-a-story style, Forsyth manages to write a wonderfully solid historical novel with all the details I like -- customs, costumes, and characters -- as well as a fairy tale fantasy that resonates and delights. Shifting between three perspectives, this brick of a novel (about 500 pages) had me hanging on every word, literally, and I was lugging this thing with me everywhere and reading it with every free second.

Opening in late 17th century France, the novel focuses first on Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a witty noblewoman banished to a convent by the Sun King, Louis XIV. There, the woman once bedecked in jewels and luxurious fabrics finds herself stripped of her belongings (including her writing implements), head shorn, condemned to lowly tasks. When a nun takes Charlotte-Rose under her wing, she enchants the Frenchwoman with a tale from her own life, and the story shifts to Renaissance Venice. One of Titian's muses, Selena Leonelli, has taken to witchcraft to preserve her youth, and when a neighbor steals greens from her yard, the witch takes their Margherita for use in her own dark magic.

De La Force is the real life author of a Rapunzel variation, and Forsyth's novel guesses at how this Frenchwoman might have heard of the Venetian original. Using the Venetian motifs in her own version, Forsyth mixes magic and history, and comes up with a delicious and heartbreaking treat.

Forsyth's writing is evocative and pretty without feeling heavy or ornate; she conveys a sense of time and place without the dreaded infodump. What I appreciated, as well was that she doesn't mince words about the way women were treated in these eras -- she creates strong heroines who are quite real but don't reek of anachronism.

Like others on this tour, I'm totally unwilling to part with my copy of this book. I had hoped to offer a giveaway but Book Depository doesn't have this one available yet. Keep your eye out -- if you like fairy tales, French history, and escapist historical fiction, you'll want this novel.

Comments

  1. A video review for this book, that's a great idea! I came here really excited to read your review because I loved this one so much, and you've made me want to gush all over again. I missed the extras on the author's site, so I'm heading there. The page count really didn't matter with this book. Awesome review :D

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    1. Wasn't it so good? I could easily reread it right now -- it's just -- I can't even make complete sentences!

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  2. I ordered this book from Amazon UK I'm so desperate to read it! Great review!

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  3. I want this one, so, so bad! I think I am going to do what Ruth did and order it from Amazon UK. It sounds like a glorious book, and one that would have me reading and reading until I finally reached the end. This was an enticing review to someone who is already enticed, so thank you for getting a fire lit under me.

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    1. Heather -- this is worth any extra cost -- it is wonderful. Just the kind of book that makes me fall in love with the joy of reading -- escapist, lush, emotional, gorgeous... Loved it.

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  4. I can tell you really loved this one. I am not one for fairy tale retellings so it's probably not my thing but I love that YOU loved it so much!

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    1. I'm grateful you appreciate the book geek out! :)

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  5. I have this book and can't wait to sit and read it. Your review is wonderful.

    Question though, I got my copy from Book Depository, with the same cover. Are they not offering anymore? I guess I will consider myself very lucky I got it :)

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    1. Oooh, lucky you! I checked Book Depository this morning and it wasn't available, and hasn't been the last few times I've searched for it. Amazon UK seems to be the best option at the moment. I hope you enjoy this one -- it is SO GOOD.

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  6. Sounds absolutely lovely. I do adore the cover as well.

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    1. Right now, I'm only able to use crazy adjective to express my enthusiasm for this one. Really wonderful.

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  7. I was bummed that the tour for this one didn't fit into my schedule! Glad you loved it! Everyone is loving it and I want her new novel too, The Wild Girl.

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    1. Jenny, I made it work because I was literally frantic to get my hands on this one. Now dying to read all her fiction -- she's amazing.

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  8. I'm not huge fan of fairy tale retolds but this sounds like worth trying. And the cover is very pretty!
    Somehow it's always harder to write reviews for books you love.

    At least Book Depositary Uk seems to have it.

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    1. There's a wonderfully solid historical fiction story in this story -- the Rapunzel tale is woven in and is a part of the story as much as the author of the Rapunzel story is. I searched for an excerpt online and couldn't find it but if you can get a copy, give it a try!

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  9. I loved this book too! I was expecting it to be good but I was completely blown away.

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    1. Agreed -- it was just marvelous.

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  10. This was an excellent book! I read it last year (I was fortunate enough to be part of a blog tour for the Aussie edition) and agree with everything you wrote about it. Book Depository may not be selling it directly anymore, but it can be bought from them via ABE. It may be a sales territory thing.

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    1. Sarah -- thanks for the tip -- I hope the buzz and enthusiasm for this one lands it a US publishing deal soon!

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  11. Wow...this sounds soooooooooooooo good.

    THANKS for the review. Now I HAVE to get the book. :)

    THANKS.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews

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    1. Honestly, the hype is all true -- the moment it comes out, try to get it! :)

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  12. Oh, here it is again! LOL. :) I WILL HAVE THIS BOOK! *shakes fist at the universe*

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    1. Seriously -- here's hoping US publishing rights happen soon!

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  13. I just finished the book last night. Couldn't sleep till I got to the end. I am so lucky that the library here in Melbourne had it. They get a bit late to get in books so when I saw it there I just grabbed it. Wonderful read.

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    1. Oooh, yay for getting your hands on it -- it really is unputdownable!! Just adored it -- glad you enjoyed it!

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  14. I want to thank you for the word "infodump." Not that I never heard it before. But when I read historical fiction that is just too much, I have such a hard time finding the right word to describe it when I review the book. "Infodump" is exactly the word I need to describe the problem with a lot of historical fiction. It looks like the author did lots of research and didn't want to waste a single bit of it, so dumped all of it on the reader. I don't enjoy a book like that and often shy away from historical fiction as a result.

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  15. I want it. I want it so hard. But I can't have it. Meh. *stomps away*

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  16. I felt the same way about this book - loved it! The multiple narratives are so cleverly done and Forsyth's writing style is a pleasure to read.

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  17. Audra, thanks for linking this in to Books You Loved. Sounds like a very good one. Cheers

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