12 August 2019

Review: Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory is my most anticipated new release for 2019 and I was excited to get my hands on it. Set in England 1648, this is a brand new series from one of my favourite historical fiction authors.

In this new series, Philippa Gregory is going to be tracing generations of the same family through their lives beginning in 17th century England, and following them all the way to Europe and the United States. Spanning more than two centuries, this series will show how regular, everyday women shape history. Hell yes! Called the Fairmile series, it all starts with Tidelands.

Alinor lives in poverty with her two children, having seemingly been abandoned by her abusive fisherman husband. Struggling to scratch together a living, Alinor is a midwife and uses her skills with herbs to heal the sick and injured in her district. She also works at the nearby mill with her daughter, and earns money where she can.

Alinor describes how she makes a living on page 27:
I'm a midwife. I used to have my licence, when the bishop was in his palace and could grant a licence - before he was thrown out and ran away. I can draw a tooth and set a bone, cut out a sore and heal an ulcer, but I do nothing else. I am a healer and a finder of lost things.
Descended from generations of wise women, Alinor is constantly treading a fine line between healing and helping and being accused of witchcraft by locals who love to gossip. With her husband missing feared drowned, Alinor is in the unenviable position of being neither a widow nor a wife and is forced to take counsel from her brother.

Set against the backdrop of English Civil War between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, news of these political issues is slow to reach the mire. Alinor's fortunes begin to change when she aids a young gentleman in hiding even though she suspects he is working to save the King. Meanwhile, Alinor's daughter falls in love with a wealthy farmer's son and they long to be together; despite Alinor having no means to raise a dowry.

The concept of class and station is a prominent theme in Tidelands, making it seemingly impossible for Alinor or her daughter to marry for love. The lack of rights for women was not a shock, but was still hard to read and the obvious difference between those in poverty and those from wealthy families was clearly apparent. I found this excerpt from the character of James (the young Royalist) on page 189 most revealing:
He shivered with distaste. He felt that he could not bear the ugliness of these people's lives on the very edge of the shore, with their loves and hates ebbing and flowing like a muddy tide, with their anger roaring like the water in the millrace, with their hatreds and fears as treacherous as the hushing well. .... James's shudder told him that he wanted nothing to do with any of them. He wished himself back with his own people, where cruelty was secret, violence was hidden, and good manners more important than crime.
I largely came to love Philippa Gregory's writing via her Plantagenet and Tudor novels however she has left the Tudor courts and the wars of the roses behind. Whilst I enjoy reading about monarchs and famous women from history, Gregory is equally able to convincingly write about the everyday lives of regular people in England at the time. Fishermen, farmers, and millers populate the cast of characters in Tidelands and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the rhythms of their lives and how they eked out a meagre wage. I was also inspired by just how hard Alinor and her daughter work to save for her dowry and their hardships reminded me how fortunate I am.

There was plenty of foreshadowing going on in the novel though and I just knew something was going to go terribly wrong. Feelings of foreboding permeated the writing and it was almost a relief when events started to take a turn for the worse.

Knowing this was the first of a series I felt Tidelands had a very fitting ending. It wasn't a cliffhanger but a clear separation preparing the reader for a future direction. I'm definitely eager to follow the Fairmile series and find out what happens next. Tidelands is recommended for readers of historical fiction and fans of Ken Follett will enjoy the beginnings of this generational family saga rooted in English history.

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. I never was interested in reading all those books about royalty and the upper classes (which, I understand, were very inaccurate) in her previous novels, but this sounds much more interesting. I might download an excerpt from Amazon to see how it goes. Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Davida, I'm so glad to hear this appeals to you when her other series haven't. I can thoroughly recommend it and I think you'll like her writing.

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