Three things led me to this book by Kate Forsyth: one, my previous love for her books, especially The Starthorn Tree and The Witches of Eileanan series, two, my love for history and historical fiction, and finally, my love and deep knowledge of fairy tales, stemming from childhood and university studies.
From the first page, I was hooked into the lives of Charlotte-Rose de la Force and her history, blossoming beautifully on the page before me. However, the story is not just a historical fiction about Charlotte and her time spent at the court of King Louis XVI, the Sun King and her exile to a convent. It is also as much the tale of Margherita, a young girl locked away in a tower, and the story of La Strega Bella, or Selena Leonelli.
Spanning almost two hundred years of the Renaissance in Italy and France, and exploring the realms of love, black magic and betrayal throughout the lives of the three women, Bitter Greens encapsulates Charlotte-Rose's story from childhood when she is taken to court to her downfall and expulsion to the nunnery, along with the fairy tale magic beautifully. The story told by Soeur Seraphina to Charlotte-Rose in the convent that inspires a version of the Rapunzel story known as Persinette resonates of the old oral tradition that many fairy tales began in so many years ago before they began to be written down by collectors. The French fairy tales, also entrenched in an oral tradition, do not, as some tales do, have anonymous creators but have, such as in the case of Persinette and Charlotte-Rose de la Force, were crafted by nobility in salons and later recorded by authors. Whilst many recorders of fairy tales were male: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, or Charles Perrault, their sources were female.
The female voice of traditional fairy tales, both oral and literary, comes through wonderfully in this book with its basis in the Rapunzel fairy tale, best known to us through the Brothers Grimm version. As a lover of fairy tales and history, the book beckoned to me, and the intertwining stories kept me reading long into the night, and each time I had to put the book aside, my mind was screaming at me not to, so that the secrets divulged throughout the book and at the end could be revealed.
The ending of the book was quite a surprise to me, but I loved the way Kate Forsyth tied all three stories together in the end and the relationship between the three women. It was very well written and I am looking forward to reading The Wild Girl and any future books she will set forth into the world.