Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
Pub. Date: September 23, 2014
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Thomas Dunne Books!!)
Summary: 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.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Retelling
Recommended for: Fans of vivid descriptions, settings as characters, fairy tale retellings, multiple POVs
Bitter Greens shows that fairy tale retellings are here to stay and I am thrilled. Told through three narrators, Bitter Greens is a story that crossed countries and centuries to get to the heart of Rapunzel: the girl, the witch, the curse set upon a family and the day payment was due. What would have initially been a delicious story became all the more enchanting with Forsyth’s rich and vivid descriptions – and what’s a good story without a court scandal or two?
Louis XIV has banished Charlotte-Rose de la Force from court, shipping her off to a nunnery despite her protests and apologies. As the months wear on, Charlotte refuses to allow the nuns to break her spirit; she endures punishment after punishment but her silent acceptance only leads to harsher whippings. One spring day she’s sent to help in the gardens and it’s there she first hears the story of a little girl who was unknowingly sold before she was ever born.
Selena Leonelli wasn’t always a feared and powerful witch. In the early 1500s she had a wonderful childhood with a mother who adored her. When one of her mother’s clients becomes jealous, his actions leave Selena – then Maria – destitute and alone, barely twelve years old. Determined to get revenge, Selena gains apprenticeship with a witch and over time, she comes to learn spell after spell (love charms can be just as deadly as curses). With each passing year Selena knows her beauty is slipping and begins to seek out her own fountain of youth.
Margherita is the light of her parents’ life. What they lack in monetary value they make up for in love. Their tiny quarters is a happy home and Margherita’s father’s mask business is gaining new clients every day. While walking home from the market, birthday cake in hand, Margherita runs into a beautiful woman. Although she doesn’t know this woman, the woman seems to know her and she rushes home. Seven years earlier, a hard labor led to Margherita’s father sneaking into a garden late at night for a fistful of greens. Not long after a beautiful baby was born, but she came at a terrible price.
You know those books that feel written just for you? It’s as though the author looked deep into your soul and wrote a tale with you in mind. Meet Bitter Greens. It really is as though Kate Forsyth peeked into my heart and crafted a story for me and me alone. Retellings, real historical figures, multiple eras (there’s so much time skipping it can be a bit dizzying – just the way I like it!)…this really is a perfect novel. I’ll admit I had never heard of Charlotte-Rose prior to reading this book, but her life was just as entertaining as any fiction and I’d love to discover more! A life at court, a secret marriage, being stripped of all possessions and power and sent away to live at Gercy-en-Brie. Forsyth didn’t have to take too many liberties when creating this character!
With multiple narratives, I’ll typically find I prefer one over the other. While I was completely captivated by all three stories, it was Margherita’s tale that had me flipping the pages a little faster, eager to get back to her story. Twelve years old and locked away in a tower, she counts each passing day knowing she’s one day closer to the full moon – and Selena’s monthly visit for more blood. All the girls before her have died – she discovered their skeletons – will she die too? Will she ever see her parents again?
If you want a fairy tale retelling done right, look no further than Bitter Greens. Forsyth is a master at what she does. This novel was released early last year in the UK and Australia, but the wait has been SO worth it. If you’re looking for unforgettable characters, settings that are every bit as fascinating as its inhabitants, and some good old-fashioned magic, Bitter Greens is the novel for you.
US residents only and I’ll announce the winner 10/19! Good luck!