Thursday, August 4, 2011

Review: The Wise Woman

Title: The Wise Woman
Author: Philippa Gregory
Published: Simon & Schuster, 1992
Genre: Historical Fiction, 528 pages
Source: Ipad purchase
My rating: 3.5/5

Alys is forced out of her nunnery in the middle of the night as a fire consumes it because the landlord, Lord Hugo, and his soldiers attack and destroy it. Most of the nuns inside become trapped and perish in the fire all because they are papists who will not renounce the pope and follow King Henry VIII as the leader of the Church of England. Also Lord Hugh and his son Lord Hugo want all the treasures in the abbey and to gain favor with the King's court. Alys runs away back home to her guardian, a local "wise woman," a herbalist, and healer, named Morach, but feels guilty that she has left her new guardian, Mother Hildebrande at the abbey to die. 

I am reading Philippa Gregory books and others written about this time period in chronological order based on the the recommendation of the literate housewife. This book is focused on the belief that strong, independent women were thought to be witches, and they would be punished, tortured, and killed for being different than other women and having "special" powers. I enjoyed the historical setting in this story. But the main characters keep changing their personalities too often for me. At one time I would believe Alys to be a young, sixteen year-old girl, taken advantage of by the men in the story, or abused by Morach, and I would feel a lot of sympathy for her. Then she would change into a vindictive and conniving young woman, determined to get what she wants - comfort, an easy lifestyle like the Lady Catherine has as wife to Lord Hugo. She then will stop at nothing, including getting rid of people who she supposedly loved at one point in her life, to get what she wants. It's hard to figure out if Alys loves Lord Hugo or if she only wants to be Lady of the castle.

At about two-thirds into the story, I was engrossed and did want to find out where things would lead for Alys. Would she get what she wanted? Is she a witch or a holy nun? Would she become the wife of Lord Hugo or go back to being a nun? I did feel that there were a few unnecessary subplots and one in particular that has no resolution which in the end left me hanging a bit. However, I do feel that I'm gaining greater insight into this period in England, and that makes this story worthwhile to me.

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