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Historical Fantasy Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Egalley courtesy of Thomas Dunne Books

Synopsis from Goodreads
The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love
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.

Amazon US/UK | Amazon kindle US/UK | The Book Depository


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  This is a lovely story, my dear readers, unhurried, bittersweet and contemplative. The reason for my subdued rating is purely subjective. You see, the story is split between three characters, and some of them I liked more than the others.

Charlotte-Rose is a middle-aged writer at the court of The Sun King Louis XIV. She is disgraced by his displeasure at the scandal surrounding her life and her writing and sent to the convent. Over the course of the story she starts by arriving to the convent and then remembering her life and events leading to her present situation.

Margherita is a young girl from a poor family of a mask maker in Venice. Her story is a basis of the fairy tale which we know as Rapunzel. It starts when when she is 7 years old and meets a wicked witch and ends when she is sixteen.

At last, there is a story of the wicked witch, Selena Leonelli, who reigns as a famous courtesan of Venice.

I was mostly fascinated by Charlotte-Rose's story because one of my favourite book series of all time Angelique by Sergeanne Golon is written at the same time and involves quite a lot of the same characters but in a different light. Athenais, Francoise de Maintenon, La Voisin, the poisonings, the king and his famous mistresses.... It was a fascinating account of an impoverished aristocratic woman with no beauty or dowry struggling to find her happiness at the court famous for its excess and extravagance. And Charlotte-Rose did not disappoint me in this regard, although my heart was breaking for her.

The other two characters I enjoyed reading about, and while they were dramatic in their own right, there was a surreal gloss of fairytale about them, so to me they didn't feel as real or as heart-wrenching as Charlotte-Rose.

All in all, it's a quiet, very enjoyable tale which would suit to any fan of fairytale retellings. Both Renaissance Italy and France of Louis XIV were beautifully depicted, and it was very easy to immerse oneself in those worlds along with the heroines of the story. I found this book very pleasurable and would recommend it to anyone.

P.S. Like all fairytales Bitter Greens has darkness and violence typical of the historical period, so don't expect Disney sugar-coated version of Rapunzel. You are forewarned, folks.

* * *
Милейшая книга, дамы и господа, выпущенная в России под названием Старая Сказка.
Честно говоря, аннотации на русском отвратительны и ничего общего с самой книгой не имеют, поэтому советую их не читать.

Старая Сказка это история трёх женщин, и именно поэтому рейтинг я свой занизила, так как не все истории мне понравились одинаково.

Шарлотт-Роз де ла Форс - известная писательница при дворе Людовика XIV, и в свои почти сорок лет не может похвастаться ни красотой, ни приданным, ни удачей в любви. Её окружает череда скандалов, последний из которых разгневал короля до того, что её отправили в монастырь.

Именно в монастыре начинается её история, и постепенно мы узнаём обо всех событиях её жизни, из-за которых она попала в немилость.

Маргерита - маленькая девочка из бедной семьи мастера масок в Венеции эпохи Возрождения. Её история - прототип сказки про Рапунцель, начинается когда ей семь лет и продолжается до того момента когда ей исполняется шестнадцать.

Наконец, Селена Леонелли, Ла Белла Стрега, - ведьма, заточившая Маргериту в её башне и знаменитая куртизанка Венеции. Её история начинается задолго до Маргериты, и мы  узнаём причины, привёдшие её к заточению девочки и что, собственно говоря, связывает обоих с Шарлотт-Роз.

Книга - эта тёмная, полная насилия характерного для эпохи Возрождения и написана в превосходном духе времени. Шарлотт-Роз была моим самым любимым характером, так как она реальный исторический персонаж, и к тому же она жила в эпоху Анжелики (из любимых мною книг Анн и Серж Голон) и общалась со множеством исторических характеров, которых я давно знаю и к которым очень привыкла. Она - подруга Атенаис де Монтеспан и дофина, фрейлина королевы, клиентка Ля Вуазин, просительница Франсуазы де Ментенон... Я была просто очарована её историей несчастных романов и бедной жизни по воле капризного короля Людовика XIV.

С другой стороны, Маргерита и Селена меня не очень вдохновили, так как они написаны в дымке сказки и настоящими персонажами не чувствуются, хотя я могла понять обоих, и все три героини были очень сильными женщинами в своём праве.

Необычная книга, наполовину мемуар, наполовину сказка, интересная, спокойная и задумчивая. Мне очень понравилось, советую всем!
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