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Bitter Greens

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A Library Journal Best Book of 2014: Historical Fiction

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.

496 pages, Hardcover

First published March 20, 2012

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About the author

Kate Forsyth

88 books2,315 followers
Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and is now the internationally bestselling author of 40 books for both adults and children.

Her books for adults include 'Beauty in Thorns', the true love story behind a famous painting of 'Sleeping Beauty'; 'The Beast's Garden', a retelling of the Grimm version of 'Beauty & the Beast', set in the German underground resistance to Hitler in WWII; 'The Wild Girl', the love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world's most famous fairy tales; 'Bitter Greens', a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale; and the bestselling fantasy series 'Witches of Eileanan' Her books for children include 'The Impossible Quest', 'The Gypsy Crown', 'The Puzzle Ring', and 'The Starkin Crown'

Kate has a doctorate in fairytale studies, a Masters of Creative Writing, a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, and is an accredited master storyteller.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,296 reviews
Profile Image for Kate Forsyth.
Author 88 books2,315 followers
January 26, 2012
This book has very deep roots that run right back into my childhood, when I was intrigued and enchanted by the original fairytale of Rapunzel. I have always wanted to write a retelling of the Rpaunzel fairytale but my problem was how to reinvent the tale and make it fresh and surprising and compelling. It took me a very long time to write this book and I'm very happy to see it with a beautiful, dreamy, romantic, fairytale cover. I hope anyone who reads it is enchanted and spellbound :)
Profile Image for Debra .
2,281 reviews35k followers
October 25, 2018
I LOVED this book!!!

The tale of Rapunzel has been brought to life in a book full of black magic, jealousy, greed, love, desire, and redemption.

What worked in this book? EVERYTHING!!!! I have grown to love books told through various characters POV. I used to really get annoyed with lots of different POV chapters. But in this book the different POV chapters worked brilliantly. I loved that I learned the POV of the girl locked in the tower to then read the POV of the witch that had locked her there. I loved learning how the witch came to be a witch, her motivations, desires, her need to always look young. Plus, there is also the POV of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the woman put in a covenant for being her own person (plus having a scandalous love affair). She is an Author in the book and a woman ahead of her time. She believed women and men should be treated equally and wanted a career as a writer and to have the ability to love whomever she pleases. But she quickly learned that doing as she wanted got her in hot water with the King. She was sent to a covenant where she meets a woman who grows herbs and tends bees in the garden. The woman begins to tell her the story of a young girl named Margherita who is taken by a woman named Selena Leonelli after her father steals some parsley from the woman's garden.

Selena is a beautiful red-haired muse who is painted by her lover and artist Tiziano. Selena was taken in by a witch after her parent’s death and learned the ways of black magic. After being put out by the witch she becomes a courtesan (whore) who has a lifelong love affair with the artist Tiziano. She inspires his beautiful artwork his entire life. He grows old. Why doesn't she?

Margherita's father steals some bitter greens from Selena's garden to help his wife during labor. He is caught and is threatened with losing his hands if he does not agree to give something to the witch/courtesan Selena Leonelli. He is an artist. If he loses his hands he can no longer work. What decision will he make?

Locked away in a tower, Margherita' hair grows, and she is visited monthly after she lowers her hair for the witch to climb up. There in the tower as she wrestles with loneliness she makes a grisly discovery but also meets a young man who hears her singing and climbs the tower to meet the singer with the beautiful voice.

The story lines become woven together so brilliantly. Charlotte being told the story while at the covenant. She can identify with the young woman with such long hair. Feeling locked away herself she wants to learn how the story ends. There is a reveal at the end which was very pleasing but not too shocking.

I cannot do this book justice. What I can do is highly recommend it!! All of the characters are interesting, and their stories are enjoyable. I read this book slowly and I am so happy that I did. It is always a pleasure to read a book so beautifully written. I loved how the women's stories come together and how knowingly and unknowingly their stories intertwined. There are no dull parts to this book.

Again, I highly recommend this book!

See more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com
Profile Image for Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews).
1,695 reviews874 followers
August 3, 2018
Read This Review & More Like It On My Blog!

An Easy Quiz To See If Bitter Greens Is For You:

#1. Do you like strong, flawed and inherent compelling female narrators?

#2. Do you enjoy reading new twists and interpretations of old fairytales?

#3. Does historical fiction with excellent place-as-character (for both Versailles and Venice) appeal to your reading tastes?

#4. Do you like a little magic subtly interwoven into your historical fiction?

#5. Have you read and enjoyed similar books like Kill Me Softly, Strands of Bronze and Gold, or The Brides of Rollrock Island?

#6. Are you attracted to novels with romance, but ones that don't focus solely on the love connections of the main characters?

#7. Are you constantly looking for a novel with length that will keep you engaged and curious from start to end?

#8. Has it been a while since you've had the chance to read a fresh and original story?

If you answered yes to the above questions - and really, I can't imagine why you would say no - then Bitter Greens is a book for you. An interesting and unique mashup of fairytale lore, court politics, and thwarted love, this captivating and darkly fascinating look at three intriguing and multi-faceted women is unlike any other book I've come across. I put it down when I reluctantly finished, and I immediately wanted to start it all over again; to spend more time in this world, and with these distinctive characters. This is an author with talent, and one that can clearly and easily spin an engrossing and compulsively readable story. This is my first Kate Forsyth novel, but you can bet it will not be my last.

Without hesitation, Kate Forsyth's newest novel is my favorite novel of 2013. It may be only March, but with 60 books under my belt, this was far and away the standout of the group. It's beautiful, sad, creative and compelling. Bitter Greens is so much more than just a simple, historical fiction retelling of Rapunzel's well-known and often-told fairytale. It's a story about love and power, about destiny and desire, and about what lengths a woman will go to to fight for her love, and to find her freedom. With her three capable main narrators, either in first person or third, Kate Forsyth brings this novel, these characters and the various locations to life. A vibrant read on all counts, Bitter Greens is sprawling, ambitious and impressive. It more than succeeds where it tries for something different and manages to breathe some fresh air into historical fiction.

All three women the novel focuses on in turn have passion, determination, and talent. Their lives are complex, and their characterization three-dimensional - not even neglecting the villain/anti-hero of the piece. Though their lives span different eras and troubles, there are parallels between the stories of all three. Each want something they cannot have; one thirsts for perfection and power, one for love and an independent life, and one for family and freedom. But despite their various wishes, each story meshes well with her compatriots. For each, life is full of unexpected twists and surprises - and those, usually out of their control. One is doomed by the choices of her parents; another by the capriciousness of a spoiled King; and another by the harsh retribution of a vicious nobleman. In each disparate arc, the loves and lives desired by Charlotte/Margherita/Selena are lost in favor of power, revenge, or dark magic. I couldn't pick a favorite from the three of them - all of them are compelling and interesting, and all of their stories demand attention.

The court of Versailles and the water-world of Venice are the most described locations (the homes of Charlotte and Margherita respectively), and they are exquisitely well-rendered. Set in the time of Louis XIV, the Sun King, for Charlotte's tale, Versailles, and occasionally Paris, create the perfect backdrops for her story of religious, romantic and independence struggles. Romantic, oppressive, and opulent, Charlotte's frustrated endeavors to control her own life in the time of a divine despot provide a nice dichotomy to the supreme will Louis exerted over his people, and his court in particular. Venice is another supremely romantic city, and one that lends itself well to the beautiful but deceptive stories of the other two characters. There is more than meets the eye to the tales of these characters, as the settings chosen more than illustrate.

Clocking in at a respectable five hundred pages, Bitter Greens has some heft to it. Thankfully, Forsyth has the capability to keep interest high and the pace moving along. I was never bored, and I never wanted to put the novel down once I had cracked the cover. This is a book I finished in one day, though I kept trying to extend the time I spent with it. I would put it down, only to mull over the plotlines in my head until I had to pick it back up again to see where Kate Forsyth was going to take her characters. There were a couple twists that came into play later in the story, and though I called one, the other was a genuine and believable surprise.

Sadly, this seems to be a rather hard novel to get a hold of. So far, I've only found available copies for sale on FishPond - no listings on Barnes and Noble or Amazon. However, if there was a book worth that steep $30 price, this is it. If more copies become available, I plan to do a giveaway. But you can rest assured my own copy is never leaving my house. I'll need it for the several rereads I plan to do in the near future.
Profile Image for Maja  - BibliophiliaDK ✨.
1,076 reviews632 followers
September 17, 2019

✨ Popsugar Reading Challenge 2019✨
✨✨A books with a title that contains "salty", "sweet", "bitter", or "spicy"✨✨

I really had no expectations going into this book but I am so happy I picked it up. It combines two of my favourite genres - fairy tales and historical fiction. It has magic, love, feminism, independence, family and so many other wonderful things! Just goes to show, that sometimes you really should take a chance with the books you read! (Note to self, mostly...)

"There are only three choices for women in this world that we live in. You can be be a nun, or a wife, or a whore."


POVs: This book tells the story of three different women. They are separated by circumstance and in some cases even by time. Yet their stories are tied together so well. And I am not usually one for POV stories.

Retelling: I am always a sucker for retellings, though only a few of them are truly great. This was one of the few. It was delightful.

Villain POV: One of the POVs in this book is actually the one of the witch, who keeps 'Rapunzel' locked away in her tower. I always enjoy villain origin stories and this was definitely one of the better ones.

"A fool's tongue is long enough to slit his own throat."

Magic: The magical realism of this story was a wonderful addition. It of course worked very well in the fairy tale part of the story, but I really liked that Forsyth found a way to incorporate it into the historical part and tie it in with the witch hunt i France at the time. It gave an extra layer to the story.

Female leads: The three leading ladies of this book, Charlotte-Rose, Selena and Margherita were such great characters in each their own way. Two things tied them together though - their strength and their search for independence. With these things in common is was really interesting to see how the different women attacked the task of gaining that independence.

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Profile Image for Jenna .
137 reviews181 followers
September 25, 2014
If I could give this book ten BIG golden stars, I would! Actually I am giving away a copy, so let me know if you are interested in me putting your name in the drawing or head over to buildabookshelf.com on Sept 23 to enter. It starts Sept 23-Sept 29. If you are a U.S. resident then I will add all my likes from here into the drawing as well :)

A special thanks to Amy Bruno for the advanced copy for an honest review as well as St. Martin's Press and Kate Forsyth!

This is a retelling of the most famous fairytale, Rapunzel. It is told from the girl with the long hair’s POV, the witch’s POV, and the author of the story (Charlotte-Rose de la Force) from the late 1600’s POV. Somehow all three are told simultaneously yet individually and woven together so extraordinarily; just like Rapunzel's long hair. I found myself grateful to be a woman during this time and age and having the freedoms to make my own choices as opposed to being independent and stuck in a time where you had to choose between being a nun, whore, or wife. And at that time all three were a form of imprisonment.

This book was written beautifully and at times I didn’t even notice myself being swept away into the enchanted world that Kate Forsyth created. I remember when reading the synopsis for Bitter Greens and thinking it sounded interesting and how could I go wrong since I love historical fiction so much. I had no earthly idea that I was stepping into three completely different worlds (yet somehow woven together) and the disappointment that I would feel when I had to put the book down and step back into the real world. Books like this one are so rare to come by that I am lost for where to go when I am finished reading because I know it will be awhile before I can match another one like it or even come close.

One thing that made this book so great for me was that I wasn’t at any point distracted by my own thoughts or anything going on around me, I never thought: Why is this book going so slow? at any moment, and I seriously got lost in the words as though I were in a trance…I’m not kidding!

I highly recommend this book, especially to those who love historical fiction and fairytales!!

Profile Image for Rachael McDiarmid.
409 reviews36 followers
June 6, 2012
I work in the book industry and when I first read about this book I begged Random House for an advance reading copy. When it arrived, I actually squealed with delight! Once I started, I couldn't put it down. It's the best historical fiction work I've read in a long time (and trust me, I read quite a bit!!). Bitter Greens is beautifully written, with wonderful female characters, and a story that just had to be told. I must admit, I was more fascinated by Charlotte-Rose de la Force than the retelling of Rapunzel story of Margherita and the courtesan/witch Selena Leonelli. It's no reflection on the latter two characters - it's just Charlotte was a fiery, independent, strong character who lived ahead of her times. She was wonderful! Thanks to Kate Forsyth for producing such an interesting read and making Charlotte come to life. And I know the book isn't publishing until April, but I'll be putting an order in for it. This is a book I want to show off on my shelves, discuss, loan to others and re-read. If historical fiction is your thing, particularly the 1500-1600s, you simply have to read this book. It's adorable.
Profile Image for Shomeret.
1,048 reviews204 followers
November 22, 2014
The ideal reader for this book would be someone who loves both historical fiction and fairy tales. The reader who dislikes one of these types of narratives is likely to find a large portion of the novel rather tiresome. Fortunately, I am one of those readers who does enjoy both.

For me, the most interesting aspect of Bitter Greens is its structure. The two story lines are braided like Rapunzel’s hair. They share themes. All the female characters struggle for independence, and the power to decide their own destinies. These themes are also uncovered in the life story of the witch who confined Rapunzel. She too had to fight for the freedom to make her own choices, but her fears still bound her. This background on the witch makes her a more sympathetic character even though she remains a dark element in the Rapunzel story. The witch’s fears are common ones with which most people contend—the fear of aging and death. So I consider this novel both feminist and deeply human.

I am looking forward to The Wild Girl, another exploration of fairy tales by Kate Forsyth dealing with the Brothers Grimm. So long as Forsyth continues along this path, I will remain an eager member of her audience.

I received this book from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

For my complete review see http://wwwbookbabe.blogspot.com/2014/...

Profile Image for Krystal.
1,445 reviews365 followers
March 17, 2018
Mordieu! This is one heck of a story!

Imagine my surprise when I got to the Afterward and discovered Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force was a real person, and much of this account is inspired by her real life. I find it so incredibly fascinating, and now I'm dying to know as much about her as possible! What an added bonus to an extraordinary tale! I've also been fascinated by 16th/17th century French history since I fell in love with The Three Musketeers so this just hit me right in my happy place. (That came out weird, but you know what I mean. Right?)

Bitter Greens begins with Charlotte's exile to a convent, and I confess: I thought this was going to be a tale of her hardships within and her attempts to escape, alternating with another woman in a similar position. Took me ages to work out this was a kind of re-telling of Rapunzel. It ended up blowing me away with how involved and convoluted it all was, and I freaking LOVED IT.

So we're really given four different stories: first, Charlotte's present situation, at the convent. Second, her musings on her past, which span a good thirty years or so. This is cut with one of the sisters at the convent telling her the story of Margherita/Petrosinella, set around one hundred years earlier, and the fourth story is the past of the witch who imprisoned Margherita. It jumps about quite a bit, and just as you're starting to get into one story, it changes again. It was slightly frustrating at times but I still really enjoyed it. Gave this long novel a great variety and kept things rather enthralling.

So the story of Margherita/Petrosinella is the Rapunzel retelling, and it's pretty true to the Grimm classic. I liked that it was hard and brutal, and didn't pull any punches. This whole novel is full of absolutely despicable behaviour that had me feeling a full range of emotions from delight, to misery, to shock and disgust. Never a dull moment in this one, folks.

The story of the witch, Selena, humanises it a lot, as she's given her own turbulent past and you begin to feel pity for this woman who treats Margherita so cruelly. I loved that. Villains are always so much more interesting when they're coloured in shades of grey. I enjoyed her story immensely.

Charlotte's past really made my heart ache. She's not a particularly likable protagonist, but her story draws you in and you can't help but feel for her. Her experiences were written boldly and vividly, with some scenes so graphic I felt them myself. I love writing like this that absorbs me so much I begin to feel what I assume the characters must. Charlotte's story is utterly compelling.

There's some serious scandal and so many, very real, characters that help create the scenes. There are situations that, despite being set in 17th Century France, are incredibly relatable to the present day. One of my favourite quotes from the book is this:

'As I knew full well, gossip had a way of taking a glance and turning it into a caress.'

Even today, gossip is a weapon of mass destruction, so this theme really struck a chord with me. The theme of love and belonging was quite powerful, too, and I think, again, it shows that some things are timeless and universal. In the words of one of my favourite bands, Anberlin: don't we all want to be loved?

This was such an epic novel, and there are many parts that will make you feel uncomfortable if you're a little squeamish. Endure it, though, and you'll be rewarded with a layered tale that feels incredibly real. There is plenty of action, with well-rounded characters and fascinating themes. I'm not a big fan of romance, but I was hooked on all of Charlotte's affairs with love, and it caught me by surprise.

Considering I DNF'd the last Kate Forsyth book I attempted to read (Dragonclaw), this was such an unexpected delight. I loved every minute of it. Highly recommend for those interested in historical fiction, fairytales, mythology, romance, witchcraft and multi-layered characters. Also, it's just a really great novel.

Update: *12 hours later* OKAY FINE I'M UPGRADING IT TO 5 STARS.
Profile Image for Lizzy.
107 reviews8 followers
February 21, 2012
I'll start by saying, Yes I would recommend you read this book. Forsyths telling of Rapunzel is beautiful, you cannot help but feel heart broken for the young Marghuerita. Her tale about the witch, Selena, is also masterfully written, giving the character more depth than you could think possible.
I believe the issue of this novel lay with Charlotte-Rose. She is the protagonist of the tale, and we spend most of our time following her story. While I find her story interesting, I don't think it's as well written as the rest of the book. In these chapters, it felt to me as if Forsyth had decided to add every bit of information that took place in seventeenth century France into this novel. The devil is in the detail, and in this case I felt it was too much detail.
These chapters really just slowed the whole thing down, and more often than not the only times I could put the book down were during these chapters.
I'd still recomend it, as Forsyth has really done a fantastic job on the tale of Rapunzel.
Overall 3.5/5 stars.
Profile Image for C.W..
Author 17 books2,303 followers
January 24, 2013
Kate Forsyth's BITTER GREENS is not only a magnificent achievement that would make any novelist jealous, it's one of the most beautiful paeans to the magic of storytelling that I've ever read.

Told in the points of view of three women linked to the legend of the girl locked by a curse in a tower, the story begins in the dazzling, corrupt France of the Sun King, where witty, hapless Charlotte-Rose de la Force finds herself immured in a convent after a disastrous affair that displeased the king. Railing against her fate, she finds herself drawn against her will into the confidences of a beatific nun, who relays to her the story of Marguerita, an innocent living in sixteenth century Venice who is sold to a rapacious witch for a handful of bitter greens. Interwoven with these tales is the haunting, seductive parable of the courtesan Selena, muse of the artist Tiziano and Renaissance survivor, who has locked away her heart from the fickle vagaries of men to cultivate an untouchable wealth and youth that demand the ultimate price.

From these threads, each an exquisite rendering of the struggles of women in a world that discards love in favor of power, Ms Forsyth weaves the bewitching origins of Rapunzel, and the revelation of how each woman becomes part of the fairytale. The writing alone is breathtaking, but the heart of this novel lies in Forsyth's unquenchable empathy for her characters, and her innate understanding of how myriad compromises and disappointments, betrayals and pain can calcify the soul, as well as how strength of spirit can arise in the most arid places, instilling hope and invoking change.

BITTER GREENS is the work of a master writer at the very top of her game; a novel to be read and savored, and then read again.
Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
733 reviews1,778 followers
December 1, 2014
The reviews were spot on with this novel. It was like being given a backstage pass to the true tale of Rapunzal. It brought it all to life and within came a wonderful message of redemption. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for ✨Susan✨.
900 reviews175 followers
October 28, 2016
This is a very good but complicated, epic fantasy. Three women's stories from three separate era's are tied up neatly in a deadly but delicately woven web. It took me a while to get into it, but once I did it took off and had a smart and imaginative ending. Interesting and strong characters keep all three storie interesting and well paced. Kate Reading always does a excellent job narrating with all of her unique voices.
Profile Image for Leonie.
Author 8 books168 followers
April 13, 2014
I bought this book last week at the Newcastle Writers Festival, and was lucky enough to have it signed by the author. This review also forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.

I was vascillating between four and five stars and then decided on five. For me, five stars means that I will, without a shadow of a doubt, read it again. Why the four star/five star indecision? Well, read on. I'll try not to taint this review with spoilers, though it might be tricky.

I've read a number of Kate Forsyth's books and enjoyed them, so I've been looking forward to reading this one for a while. It's the story of Rapunzel, reimagined, using the historical facts behind the original tale. As such, it's fascinating. It follows three women, Charlotte Rose, one of the original writers of the tale, Selena Leonelli, witch and prostitute, and Margherita, or Rapunzel.

The tale weaves back and forth between all of the women, cleverly intertwining their stories. For a while, I was tempted to believe that the story was simply historical fiction, but there were enough fantastical elements woven into it to make it truly fantasy.

The harsh realities of life before our modern times was so clearly written that I found myself fervently thankful that I didn't have to live through the plagues and filth of what is an era so often depicted romantically by many writers. As characters described painting their faces with white lead, I would cringe with horror, imagining the potential for lead toxicity and all that that implies. When the king's foibles with women and serving maids occurred, I imagined the STI's that must have been so rampant.

All three characters were strongly imagined. All three had distinctly individual voices, and all three tugged at my heart strings, even when one of them really shouldn't have.

The four/five star dilemma was the sex. It surprised me. It probably shouldn't have, because of the time periods involved. It's a personal thing. I'm not fond of descriptive sex scenes at all. If sex is contextual, I'm more comfortable with implied sex, if you like, not described. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a prude, and it wasn't hugely graphic, and it was done well - it's just my own personal preferences. For anyone worrying, it's definitely NOT erotica, just part of the story.

Having said all of that, when I thought about it, the sex was appropriate, and all about the era. Women were valued for little during that time period except for their ability to make a marriage and consequently bear children. Mistresses were a fact of life for many wives, who just had to cope with the fact that their husband was sleeping with someone else. Women, like Charlotte Rose who was a writer, and who was relatively poor for a noble, were looked down upon, and had little chance of being recognised as artists in their own right. It was a very difficult time to be a woman as Charlotte Rose states several times.

As I read my way through this book, I became more and more involved in the story. (All the stories!) By the end, I was happy to discover that my suspicions about one of the characters were correct and I read the last pages with the satisfaction that is only found in a truly good read.

This is an excellent book. A really gripping tale that brings so much more to the story than just "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!"

October 28, 2016
In Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth braided together fantasy, romance and history into a lovely, intricate tale full of magic, mystery, intrigue, and strong, beautiful women.

In 1697, Mademoiselle Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force was banished from the royal court of the Sun King to the Benedictine abbey of Gercy-en-Brie. From inside the walls of the convent Charlotte Rose published her to be most celebrated story - Persinette- a tale that would inspire the Grimm Brothers' Rapunzel. Up to today, even as million of dollars are made from films, books, and retelling of this beloved story, fairy tale scholars are still wondering how Charlotte- Rose came up with a story so similar with the earliest, first known version of this tale, neapolitan Giambattista Basile's Petrosinella. Because Petrosinella was published in Neapolitan dialect and was not translated long after Charlotte-Rose's death.

Around 1512-15, Tiziano Vecilli painted a portrait of a beautiful woman styling her red hair with the help of two mirrors held for her by a man. Several attempts were made by many scholars to identify this mysterious woman yet information about her remained as mysterious and elusive.

Somewhere in between 1515 and 1697 a young girl was singing away in a tower, braiding her long , red hair...

How are they connected? The tale , the woman in the portrait, and the girl with the longest hair?

I absolutely love this book. Unlike so many other fairytale retellings that lacked strong foundation this one impressed me by being obviously well-researched and linked to history. I appreciate a story better when I know that the writer has put so much love, time ,and effort into it. And this one leaves me in awe of Kate Forsyth. I've always adored the story of Rapunzel and so spent a lot of time researching its origin. I've read the English version of both Petrosinella and Persinette. And I've also read about the speculations of the real Rapunzel connected to a Medici princess. That shows my obsession and so I was delighted beyond belief when I finally got my hands on this one. Thankfully, amazingly, Kate Forsyth didn't let me down. It's like she had read the list of my favorites (princesses, magic, art, poetry, intriguing history, romance, mystery, and beautifully written words) and incorporated them all in one book. My only issue would be towards the end, when *spoiler spoiler) when Margherita suddenly performs magic, magic that took Selena Leonelli years and years to learn. It was the least convincing part, the oddball, the only one inviting incredulity. But hey, this is a fairy tale. So. Still she more than made up with lavish description of elaborate gowns and wigs, a dash of sex, and rhyming spells.

Between 1515 and 1696 a young girl is singing to herself in a tower, braiding her long, red hair... Hundred years later I get to read her story at its finest.
Profile Image for Alissa.
614 reviews85 followers
July 11, 2019
Nice mix of fairytale and historical fiction. This book tells the stories of three women, all of them unwilling to be meek and obliging as their societies or their guardians demand, and of how they tried to achieve agency and love.

In the best tradition of modern fairytale retellings the story is dark, angsty and, of course, the Rapunzel’s take here is not after its bowdlerized version. The “bitter” part of the book's title is not just for decoration, either: there is physical and psychological violence aplenty (never too graphic), particularly against women. Consequently, although the book is nicely written and the story is interesting, some concepts were somehow uncomfortable.

What I liked is that the book is a page-turner, the story flows smoothly and the author did surely research the historical and geographical background, as stated in the acknowledgements. I was sold on the idea of a writer and her characters sharing the same pages and along with the motif of women and empowerment there are several other thought-provoking themes, like the terror of dying, of being forgotten, of not being loved.

This entanglement between the Rapunzel tale and its writer’s is very original but I failed to perceive the plotlines as a whole because they follow the life of truly different women. I think this very mingling of historical events and characters with magic and legends is both an asset and a liability since there are, as it is appropriate, distinct kinds of storytelling involved and I don’t think the delivery of a cohesive picture succeeded.

The story which is the trait d'union between Charlotte-Rose de La Force and Rapunzel was very engrossing and my favorite part. All the protagonists are women who act consistently with the limits of their experiences and circumstances, they are not passive nor Mary Sues, and it felt quite accurate considering that, with different degrees of freedom granted by wealth and birth, only a few “safe” options were open to women living in those past centuries. The novel narrows them down to three and I find them reductive, howbeit probably not that far off the historical mark.

Unfortunately the shifting viewpoints and storytelling styles devised to fit both the fairytale and the historical fiction plots contributed to my detachment. Also, while I never disliked any of the protagonists I never felt involved but with one of them, and only in part: all the women here are totally ruled by emotion and not an ounce of logic. Moreover, my modern mind rooted in human rights and gender equality was kind of taxed trying to immerse in the thoughts (not actions) of the protagonists or to partake of their beliefs and cultures as presented in the narrative. On top of that a few plot holes and the rushed ending of one of the protagonists’ stories left me a bit perplexed, given the overall quality of the book.
I know I’m being vague but my points strictly relate to the plot and the literary devices, I cannot say any more without giving spoilers.

Bottom line: this story didn’t work for me but I liked the idea.

There are only three choices for women in this world that we live in. You can be a nun, or a wife, or a whore.
Profile Image for Karen Brooks.
Author 15 books545 followers
April 19, 2012
I confess I'm a long time fan of Kate Forsyth's work ever since I read The Witches of Eileanan and sent my first email ever to an author to express my appreciation. I know the high standards Kate sets and that which her readers have come to expect and what a magnificent storyteller she is, even so, this did not prepare me for the experience of reading Bitter Greens. Quite simply, this is an outstanding, mesmerizing book that is one of the finest works of historical fiction I have read.

Weaving the tale of the infamous French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force with the tale of Rapunzel, Forsyth delivers a luscious, sensual and incredibly moving tale of love, betrayal, politics, religion, female friendship, desire and gender against the backdrop of Renaissance France and the court of the Sun-King Loius XIV and the heady life of a courtesan in Sixteenth Century Venice.

Moving from Charlotte-Rose's story to the apparently fictitious one of Rapunzel, known in this book by two different names, and yet again to another major female character in at least Rapunzel or Margherita's tale, the bella strega (beautiful witch) and courtesan, Selena Leonelli, the reader is admitted into three what seem at first very different female lives, cultures and times. Only, as their stories develop and unfold, the similarities far outweigh the differences. From imprisonment created by sex and gender roles, to that enforced by faith and parental rules, to the laws laid down by king and country, it becomes evident that Rapunzel's tower is not worst kind of entrapment women can endure. Cleverly using the tower as a metaphor for the different ties that cruelly and gently bind, Forsyth has crafted a beautiful and powerful story of three strong women that lingers in the imagination long after you put it down.

Written as the creative part of a current Doctorate, it's clear that Forsyth has done her research. Anyone who has plunged into the history of fairytales understands that it was the Brothers' Grimm whom we have to thank and curse for many of the current and highly sanitized versions of centuries old and told folk tales that frequent contemporary culture - Grimm and Disney. Forsyth has eschewed these and returned to earlier and darker source material and in doing so, given the novel a veracity and depth that is simply breath-taking. The detail of French court life, of the nunnery, and the way she brings Venice of that time to life is deftly done, never detracting from the story. In the acknowledgments you read about the translations Forsyth commissioned and the trips she took as research for her novel. They were well worth it and as someone who has both researched and taught the history and signifance of fairytales and myths at university, i know I for one would love to read her thesis when it's complete.

Overall, I thought this a simply amazing book that once again left me in awe of this woman's formidable talent and grateful that she (and I!) live in times where women can write their fabulations and share them. A tour de force indeed!
Profile Image for Barb.
1,179 reviews129 followers
August 8, 2014
I was looking forward to reading Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, its been on my list of upcoming books to read for quite a while now. It's the retelling of the traditional fairytale of Rapunzel as well as a historical novel about Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the woman who wrote the fairytale 'Persinette' which was later adapted by the Brothers Grimm as the story we know as Rapunzel.

I enjoyed the beginning of the story where we are introduced to Charlotte-Rose de la Force and follow her after she is banished by King Louis XIV to live at the convent of Abbey of Gercy-en Brie. I thought this portion of the story was richly detailed in both the physical setting and the emotional experiences the characters encounter. I was interested in reading more about how Charlotte-Rose ended being punished by the king and sent to the convent but unfortunately we don't see much more of the adult Charlotte-Rose for several hundred pages.

Too soon the author turns to the story that Sister Seraphina, one of the nuns at the convent, tells Charlotte-Rose about a poor young girl who was taken from her family and held prisoner in a tower by a witch. This is the traditional story of Rapunzel, which I would have enjoyed more if the characters had been as well developed as the those introduced in the beginning of the book. The recounting of the fairytale (that tells Margherita's story) just isn't as detailed as the previous storyline.

The story begins to lack momentum early on. We are taken back and forth in time through the lives of several different women. We learn a little about Pascalina, Margherita's mother and the promise she unwittingly made, we learn about Margherita's adbuction and imprisonment and then we learn about the horrors the witch Selena Leonelli and her mother endured and how they impacted her life.

I had two issues that interfered with my enjoyment of this novel one was that there was just too much telling for my tastes, I like authors to show me what is happening not tell me what happened. I think Forsyth did a wonderful job of showing us what was happening in the beginning of the book. Unfortunately that wasn't the case in the subsequent chapters. The other issue I had was with the shift in setting and storylines, it started to make me dizzy. I made a note of the dates when events were taking place in this story and there are sixteen shifts in time in the first 224 pages of the book. We start in 1666 then move ahead to 1697 then back to 1685, then forward again to 1697, then back to 1599, then further back to 1590. And it goes on like this with the shifting and the various stories of young girls and their mothers. It was just too much shifting for me, I didn't enjoy the story any longer, instead I found it irritating.

I received an ARC of this book through the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Zoe.
71 reviews35 followers
March 11, 2018
If you like gloriously remastered fairy tales, twisted and flawed narrators, layered and tragic villains, powerful women, a little bit of romance and a great deal of historical fiction… this book is the one for you!!! Bitter Greens is an amazing novel which I would recommend to just about anyone!

"Don't you know a woman's tongue is her sword? You wouldn't want me to let my only weapon rust, would you?"

The year is 1666 and French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the witty and brusque woman who never could keep hold of her tongue, finds herself thrown from court life at the Palace of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and into the dreadful confines of an isolated and rundown convent. Mistreated, scorned and isolated, Charlotte-Rose finds an unexpected comfort in the stories of the generous and tender nun, Sœur Seraphina. She is enchanted by the story of Marguerita, a young girl of great beauty sold to a witch for a mere handful of bitter greens, and of Selena, the gorgeous muse of the shallow and capricious artist Tiziano, who longs to retain her youth and beauty forever.

As the threads of the women’s lives are powerfully intertwined, they all become a part of the endless battles of women in a world of seduction and betrayal, power and resentment, pain and superstition.

Forsyth’s writing is magnificent, the plot riveting, and the characters drew me in with their complexity. This novel expertly weaves the retelling of Rapunzel with the origins of the original story, creating a multidimensional plot that was almost impossible to fault. While a little slow at the beginning, the intriguing storyline had me transfixed early on and kept me interesting through the entire, considerable, length of it.

Bitter Greens isn’t a light book but it's definitely a good one. The result of masterful writing and thorough research, this is a book to be savoured.

You can check out my full review on my blog here
Profile Image for Emily.
698 reviews2,023 followers
May 2, 2013
This is a really original, wonderfully written take on the Rapunzel story. It follows three women living in seventeenth century Venice and Versailles, all of whom struggle to find a unique place for themselves in a male-dominated world. The book is set in the historical past, with an intricate plot structure that jumps between eras, but there's also an element of magic that will make fantasy lovers happy.

While I enjoyed Kate Forsyth's writing, loved the settings, and basically devoured the entire book in a matter of hours, I wouldn't ever return to it again. It's a matter of preference. Personally, I don't like reading books where sexual violence is a constant threat the characters suffer. I understand that this is historically accurate, and I understand that women had very little freedom in these societies; as Selena's mentor tells her, a woman can be a nun, a wife, or a whore. The female protagonists are strong characters, but they are frequently taken advantage of by the men in their lives. Much of their energy is spent responding to these situations and navigating sexual situations. , I was pretty over this aspect of the book.

I would love to read some of Kate Forsyth's other work. I just didn't enjoy the experience of reading some of the scenes in the book, and I don't think they really added anything to my own conception of the world. Overall, though, this is one of the better fairy-tale retellings I've ever read, and Charlotte-Rose in particular seems like she was a badass lady. (She's real!)
Profile Image for Theresa Smith.
Author 5 books162 followers
December 1, 2017
History and fairy tale magic weave together in this stunning novel of betrayal and redemption by one of my favourite authors, Kate Forsyth. The scope of this novel and the interlocking lives of its characters is truly breathtaking, a testimony to Kate’s finely tuned skill as a master storyteller.

The setting is so rich in detail that I could virtually taste and smell the surrounds. The character development is intensely intricate, the motivations of each of the key players apparent and entirely justified within the context of their individual experiences. This is a novel that will sweep you up in its embrace, the kind of story you will want to get lost in for hours at a time in order to fully experience and appreciate the depth and detail. There are many moments where the lives of each of these characters intersect in ways you would have never anticipated; and many more moments that will leave you winded from the emotional heights that Kate pushes her characters to.

At the core of this story, to my mind, is the notion of release and redemption. Release from the shackles that bind a person to a life they had never intended to live and redemption from the acts they have committed while in the grips of those shackles. I adore this novel and despite reading and loving all of Kate’s historical fairy tale offerings, Bitter Greens remains my favourite, set apart at a height I doubt any other novel will ever reach.
Profile Image for Marquise.
1,709 reviews392 followers
March 25, 2020
Forsyth's first book that I read left me rather unimpressed, but this one is vastly better not just in terms of plotting and characterisation but also in being more accurate historically.

However, it still presents the same issues as the former, and so I've come to believe it's a repetitive weakness in this author. Namely, information overload and name-dropping.

The thing is, since she's not familiar with the periods she sets her stories in, Forsyth has to investigate and do research, document herself a lot before writing. That's very good and should always be done, it's commendable to research so much. However, Kate Forsyth just... has no criteria, and I mean no criteria at all (or perhaps it's poor self-control) as to how to apply and use the information judiciously, that results in her including absolutely every single bloody bit she reads into her book! Historical detail she reads is historical detail she MUST include, even if and in spite of it not fitting in at all, being completely unnecessary, and worst of all, added in merely for show, making the plot bloated. Like all authors that fall prey to this mentality, she makes the mistake of thinking that the more historical trivia she crams in, the more "authentic" the story will feel.

The end result is, predictably, the contrary.

The second big mistake, that's also tied to the first one, is her addiction to Forrest Gumping. Meaning, she has to make her characters absolutely meet every Big Name personage of the period, no matter how implausible and unbelievable it might be the way she makes them meet. That was an absurdly and ludicrously overused technique in the first book of hers I read, and thankfully it isn't as outrageous in Bitter Greens. But it's plain obvious that this isn't Forsyth's merit as much as the fact that Charlotte-Rose was a courtier and lady-in-waiting in Louis XIV's court, and hence in a position to meet all those celebrities of the time. That saves things such as her meeting Racine from being a contrived, but not entirely with regard to others. La Fontaine and Perrault would be good examples, and most unbelievably, that she'd meet the actual person who inspired the original Rapunzel two centuries earlier in Italy.

So, info-dump overloader + chronic Forrest Gumper of an author = more chaff than grain.

Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, author of Persinette, is a very interesting woman, and that alone saves this book from being an insufferable bore. She was quite unique and a transgressor who ended up exiled by the Sun King into a convent for a scandal too many. As a frequenter of salons and a writer herself, she penned many literary fairy tales, which people don't know much about these days as she's been overshadowed by more famous salonnières; but one of her tales definitely fished her out of complete obscurity: Persinette, which she adapted from Giambattista Basile's tale of a maiden captive in a tower and which Perrault and later the Grimms popularised worldwide as Rapunzel.

It's not known how Charlotte-Rose might've known about Basile's Petrosinella, as it hadn't been translated yet into French (so Forsyth claims, and she's not the only one), so what this novel tries to answer is precisely this question: how did she know?

Now, that's an excellent premise. Unfortunately, Forsyth blew it up by adding two other problems to the ones already mentioned. By dividing the book in two different timelines separated by two centuries, she created a dual timeline. All well and good, that's not a flaw indeed; in fact I think Forsyth handled the dual timeline deftly. The problem is, first and foremost, that Forsyth decided to make the story of Petrosinella magical and keep Charlotte-Rose's realistic. Yes, as in actual magic, magic that works and is wielded by a sorceress, a real one. Why? The tale of Selena Leonelli, beautiful courtesan and muse of Tiziano, was going well and believably... until Forsyth had this idea that Selena had to be a witch terrified of aging, and have her start kidnapping and murdering virgin girls because she needed their blood for her spells to stay young and beautiful. This Erzsébet Báthory wannabe plot was ridiculous, poorly plotted, and laughable, not to mention completely unbelievable.

And that's what ruined any semblance of believability for this arc even before Forsyth decided to make things worse by making Selena a centuries-old quasi-immortal who enters the nunnery as penance for her sins, a convent that oh so conveniently happens to be the same one Charlotte-Rose is confined at, thus both women meet and that's how Charlotte-Rose got "inspired" to write Persinette, straight from the horse's, er, witch's mouth! Isn't it that a nifty neat wrap up?

Sweet baby Jesus... the stupid ideas some authors can concoct and expect readers to swallow never cease to amaze me.

Anyhow, the first half of the book, dealing with Charlotte-Rose's life only and not the pseudo-retelling of Rapunzel, is good and alone worth not rating the book any lower. I'd have preferred Forsyth had been smarter with the Persinette retelling part, especially because Charlotte-Rose is the ONLY one who doesn't demonise the fairy that kidnaps the girl to keep her in a tower (yes, in her version it's a fairy, not a witch), and actually redeems her for that act. Basile, Perrault, and the Grimms don't redeem the witch. So there must be a reason for why Charlotte-Rose altered this point so significantly. Unfortunately, to make Selena semi-immortal and land her in a convent for no credible reason other than a need to meet Charlotte-Rose is a complete cop out, and leaves a noticeable plothole for anyone to see.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,121 reviews1,200 followers
February 15, 2013
Bitter Greens is a lot of things: historical fiction, historical fantasy, fairy tale retelling. Most importantly, though, it's great fun, containing grand stories worthy of fairy tales, with the complexity and historical background of a good adult novel.

Slightly over half the book is narrated by Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a lady-in-waiting in the court of Louis XIV of France. (She was an actual historical writer, one of the first to tell the Rapunzel fairy tale.) We first meet her at age 47, when she's banished to a convent for offending the king; her chapters alternate between her struggle to adapt to her new life and her dramatic backstory. While these chapters have a fairy-tale style, Charlotte-Rose's story is strongly grounded in the turbulent historical era and contains little to no magic.

The rest of the novel is a retelling of "Rapunzel." The majority of these chapters focus on Margherita, the young Rapunzel character, but there's also a chunk belonging to Selena, the witch, in which we get her tragic backstory. These sections contain strong fantasy elements, but still have a historical framework: Italy, particularly Venice, in the 16th century.

The plot jumps around in time, looping backward and forward through the characters' lives; this works well, as connections and similarities between the three main characters build throughout the book. The plot is highly entertaining, Charlotte-Rose's story as much so as the Rapunzel tale. (I can see why Forsyth decided to devote so much time to the writer, as hers was clearly a story begging to be told. The more unlikely elements, such as the dancing-bear scheme, apparently come straight from the historical record.) For me at least, the balance of fairy tale and realism is just right: the story has the larger-than-life quality of a fairy tale, without becoming too simple or dreamy. In isolation, Charlotte-Rose's story might seem a little too easy or cliché, but interwoven with the Rapunzel tale it works splendidly.

The protagonists are the sort of heroines one would expect in a modern fairy tale: brave and good and resourceful. Charlotte-Rose and Margherita seem created with an eye more to making them likeable than realistic; but they are indeed likeable, with sufficient depth to sustain their ultimately satisfying stories. The characterization might at first appear black-and-white, but soon proves somewhat more complex. And while Margherita fills the traditional Rapunzel role, she's a capable girl who provides an answer to many of the problems modern readers have with the character (for instance, why she doesn't just climb down on her own hair).

Selena's story, though, is rather less satisfying. She reads like a darker echo of Charlotte-Rose, and while the author probably didn't intend this interpretation, I find her chapters most interesting when viewed as "the witch's backstory as imagined by Charlotte-Rose." Her character doesn't quite come together the way the other two do, and the inevitable tragedies in her life--having nothing to do with old age--don't explain her obsession with eternal youth. But, in fairness, I may be overly critical on this point--since reading Wicked I've found all other attempts to create wicked witches totally lame.

Bitter Greens has a good sense of place, and does a great job of maintaining that perfect fairy-tale mood. It's not great literature, but the writing style is adequate. Do note that this is definitely a book for adults, with some rather explicit scenes. These become rather repetitive: there are at least 5 relationships in the book, and while they go in different directions, most of the sexual encounters feel nearly interchangeable.

Finally, the historical element is quite interesting; the author clearly did her research, and the French sections in particular are full of lively detail without bogging the story down.

In the end, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fantasy or fairy tale retellings. What I don't understand at all is why it's been published nearly a year in Australia and has yet to come out in the U.S. This seems like a book that would have a large and appreciative audience--better get on that, publishers!
Profile Image for Carolyn.
2,171 reviews615 followers
June 11, 2014
This fascinating book is a reworking of the fairy tale Rapunzel woven into the story of Charlotte-Rose Caumont de la Force, who wrote and published a version of the story while locked in an austere French nunnery in the 1690s. There is mystery surrounding how she came to hear of the story, originally published in Italy some 60 years earlier in a dialect Charlotte-Rose would not have been able to read.

Charlotte-Rose had a carefree childhood running wild on her family's estate in Gascony. However, after her father dies, although her mother is managing the estate fine in her own the king decides she and her sister Marie need a strict guardian in charge and her mother is banished to a nunnery. Charlotte-Rose is smart and feisty and decides that since she is not beautiful she will go to court in Versaille where she can remain a single woman as a member of the royal household of Louis IX.

Charlotte-Rose had always been a great teller of stories and entertained the ladies at court as well as some of the gentlemen with her tales and even published some under a pseudonym. When her scandalous behaviour and forthright manner eventually displease the king he sends her to a nunnery for punishement. It is here that the author suggests that she heard the story of "Persinette" (little Parsley) later to become Rapunzel when retold by the brothers Grimm.

I really enjoyed the way the novel is written as a historical fiction surrounding the life of Charlotte-Rose and the fairy story of Rapunzel. The mixture of the politics of the Sun King's court with the rise and fall of women at court who must agree to the king's every whim or be rapidly banished from court makes for an intriguing story on its own. The story of Rapunzel is also a powerful story of the way in which women, particularly poor women were treated in the 16th century, and we come to feel pity not only for the girl locked in the tower but also for the witch who put her there. Great Story - highly recommended if you enjoy historical fiction.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
844 reviews
March 1, 2014
I finished this last night and found it to be an enjoyable read. Fantasy is not a genre I am familiar with, nor one that I generally enjoy, with some exceptions. But this was the story of 3 women told over a 200-year period - one a noblewoman banished from the court of the Sun King, another a young girl locked in a tall tower by a wicked witch 100 years previously (a re-telling of the Rapunzel story), and the other the story of the wicked witch herself and her childhood.

If nothing else, this book served to remind me just how good we actually have it as women in these times. Back in those times, women had few options in life - they could choose to enter a nunnery, they could choose to marry a man (for security, not often for love) or they could choose to prostitute themselves. There were few options available that didn't encompass one of these choices - especially if you were poor - life was hard.

I enjoyed the story of Rapunzel - in this story, she was called Margherita originally and the wicked witch changed her name to Petrosinella (parsley in Italian) because the wicked witch told Margherita her parents had sold her to the witch for a handful of bitter greens - parsley. The Rapunzel fairytale is not one I was very familiar with (beyond knowing that a girl with long hair was locked in a tower and would let down her hair for the witch to climb up), so it was interesting to read more of that. It was also interesting to read about life in the court at Versailles, with the noblewoman - Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force - an actual figure in history.

All in all, a good book - a 3.5 star read.
Profile Image for Shelleyrae at Book'd Out.
2,456 reviews513 followers
April 17, 2012
In Bitter Greens, Forsyth weaves together the narratives of Rapunzel, the author of the fairy tale, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force and the courtesan sorceress, 'La Strega Bella', Selena Leonelli, against the intriguing backdrop of seventeenth century Europe, from the court of Versailles presided over by the Sun King, Louis XIV to a cloistered stone convent. Bitter Greens is a mesmerising tale blending history, fantasy and adventure in a remarkable story.

Charlotte-Rose de Camont de la Force, Forsyth reveals in the Afterword, was the author of 'Persinette' a fairy tale written while she was in exile at a French convent. 'Persinette', meaning Little Parsley, is the basis for the tale we know as Rapunzel. Bitter Greens opens as Charlotte-Rose is settling into the Abbey, miserable and lamenting her banishment from the Royal Court. There is little of anything in the austere convent, little food, little warmth and little kindness. Only Soeur (Sister) Seraphina reaches out to Charlotte-Rose and begins to tell her a story of a little girl named Margherita, affectionately called Persinette by her parents.
As the story of Bitter Greens unfolds, perspective switches between that of Charlotte-Rose who recalls the circumstances that have led her to the Abbey, and the tale of Margherita, (as told by Sister Seraphina) taken from her parents and imprisioned in a tower. Forsyth then introduces Selena Leonelli, who shares her own tale of a life as the cherished and beautiful daughter of a courtesan, whose brutal downfall and death leads Selena to swear vengeance. Apprenticed to a witch, Wise Sibillia, Selena learns the dark magic of lust, desire and revenge and becomes known as La Strega Bella - The Beautiful Witch. These complex women are extraordinary characters, both a product of, and ahead of, their times. Their stories are fascinating and though there are many differences between them, there are also similarities, not the least being the way in which as women, Charlotte-Rose, Selena and Margherita are at the mercy of society.
Bitter Greens is a dark story, shying away from the Disney versions of fairy tales and princesses. In this Rapunzel tale, Margherita is ripped screaming from her parents arms and is kept company in the tower by the skeletons of the girls who came before her. Even though you are familiar with the tale the grim circumstance and differences to the sanitised tale maintain suspense. It is however, also a story of redemption and love as promised.
With authentic and compelling detail Forsyth explores the excesses of Versailles, often a scene of debauchery and treachery. Charlotte-Rose, as a cousin to the King, is admitted to the court at sixteen but her bright mind and rebellious spirit is as often derided as it is feted. The elaborate hierarchy and capricious politics often determined by King Louis' current fancy are interesting. The elegant costumes of the Court hide ignorance and indifferent brutality. Of the streets, Forsyth writes of casual violence, poverty, religious purges and the scourge that is the plague. While I can't attest to the historical accuracy of the author's imaginings the Bitter Greens is rich with vibrant landscape and scenes.

The author's first adult tale after a successful publishing career in young adult fantasy, Bitter Greens is a stunning novel. I was spell bound from beginning to end by the lush prose, magnificent characters and intriguing story. I will be recommending Bitter Greens to everyone.

Profile Image for Sally906.
1,372 reviews3 followers
November 30, 2015

OK – so you want more than wow? As a child I devoured the Hans Christian Anderson and the Grimm Brothers stories. Rapunzel was one of my favourite Grimm stories and I was delighted to see that the BITTER GREENS character Charlotte-Rose de la Force was a real historical figure who wrote the story of Persinette which was adapted by the Grimm brothers who presented it as Rapunzel.

Too complicated? Then don’t worry about it – just read the story and allow yourself to be swept away into a whole new historical fantasy world that blends truth with fiction, known history with alternative history, and real characters with make-believe characters; or are they?

I have to confess at first I was taken aback by the sheer size of the book. But I need not have worried because the pages just disappeared as I became immersed in the story. In fact, time almost had no meaning as long as I was reading, and by the end of the book I was almost wishing there were more pages. BITTER GREENS is beautifully written, with wonderful evocative phrases on nearly every page that conjures up the historical period vividly. It has three stories that make up the whole tale. The fates of the three main characters are more closely connected than it would first appear. Whilst young Margherita is physically incarcerated in a remote tower, and bound by both physical walls and magic to stay there. Charlotte-Rose and Selena are each bound by the societies that they live in. Bound by court etiquette, the position of women in society at that time of history, the church and their parents and husbands, women were very restricted; and when rules were broken the consequences were far greater for the woman that the men.

Selena and Charlotte-Rose tell their own stories, but the story of Margherita is told in the third person. The stories are all interwoven with connections that don’t become apparent until later on – there are twists; turns; intrigue; danger and black magic all set against a background of Huguenot persecution and catastrophic and horror-ridden waves of the black plague.

Author, Kate Forsyth, made the ultimate sacrifice for her craft and forced herself to travel to Paris, Gascony, Venice and the Italian Lakes for inspiration. She has a new book coming out in mid-March THE WILD GIRL and it is based on Dortchen Wild, the real historical character who was the wife of one of the Grimm brothers. If it is even as half as good as BITTER GREENS then it will be a book that will linger in your mind for a long time after you finally close it.
Profile Image for Krystle.
893 reviews337 followers
October 21, 2014
Bitter Greens is a fantastic book. One of the best I’ve read all year.

Kate Forsyth is a marvelous writer, combining gorgeously lush descriptions, beautifully crafted characters, and strong but realistic heroines that all have interconnected stories. I don’t know what more else I can say that hasn’t already been said by others.

Published earlier in Australia, I had to wait many years before this novel was widely available in America (thank you for finally bringing it over!). Not only does it capture the wonderful essence of the historical periods of that time but the author is able to infuse it with touches of magic that don’t seem forced or overly done. The added layer of the fairy tale retelling on top of the novel’s narrative gives this story a sort of depth that many others can barely evoke or touch, especially when you consider that the main arc of the novel is sort of an adaptation or biographical story of a real life figure who wrote fairy tales.

I love how these aren’t perfect women, prone to their own insecurities and vices, make poor or unwise decisions, and feel the whole range of emotions while they experience their lives and situations. We get to see each of them evolve through the ages from young girls, conflicted youths, and elderly women who are now reaching the acceptance they’ve so wanted in their lives either for themselves or from others. I love that we have a main character that is an older female but is every bit as vibrant as our young adolescent and women in the peak of their lives. Just because you are old or older doesn’t mean you can’t experience all the joys, pleasures, and disappointments in life.

Oh, everything was so wonderful, and I especially loved the way romance is approached from all angles – ill-fated, true love, and misguided. Love is not always perfect and glorious with expulsions of feelings, no, it’s a lot of other complicated and difficult matters that need to be worked through as well. This is an adult story meant for more mature audiences but the luscious descriptions and creative genius of the novel’s design can be appreciated by all lovers of literature.

An absolutely fabulous novel and I must read more of her works.
Profile Image for ☼ Sarah ☼.
256 reviews52 followers
May 11, 2021
🌻 This review, and others like it, can also be found here on my blog! 🌻

Do you still read fairy tales, or did you put them aside as you grew up? If you’re anything like me, you’ve kept stories of faerie queens, witches, princesses, and brave maidens close to your heart, you believe in magic, and you try and find a little bit of it in your everyday life wherever you can. Regardless of where you stand, you’ve no doubt either read Rapunzel, heard of its plot, or even come across a few retellings here and there. I’ve found that sometimes, retellings can seem stale since they’re treading over such a well-worn path with such a familiar ending — but there’s absolutely no staleness whatsoever to the story Kate Forsyth unravels in Bitter Greens. Not only does Forsyth have a doctorate in fairy tale studies, which shows through the sheer depth of research and the vividity of every setting, but her take on Rapunzel is made fresh by an unabashedly feminist multi-layered narrative and prose so lush that I swore I was really in France, Venice, and a witch’s tower. It’s no surprise that it became an instant favourite of mine, and here’s why…

What made Bitter Greens so enchanting to me is how deftly Forsyth weaves fantasy with reality — or at least, something quite close to it. Her narrative darts in and out of time and space, allowing the reader to follow and grow to care for three very different women whose paths intersect in ways both predictable and unexpected. Most grounded, of course, is the perspective of headstrong, scandalous Charlotte-Rose de La Force: her real counterpart wrote Persinette (inspired by Basile’s Petrosinella; later adapted as Rapunzel by the Brothers Grimm) whilst living out her exile at the abbey of Gercy-en-Brie, and here, reading from her colourful point of view, it’s easy to root for her as she rebels against the misogynist ideals of her era. Meanwhile, the stories of the witch Selena Leonelli and imprisoned Margherita are no less engrossing and their setting of sixteenth-century Venice no less rich, but they feel like the fairy tale characters they’re supposed to be. Each word is pure magic — and so I’m not entirely unconvinced that Forsyth isn’t a witch herself!

Despite the definite fantasy atmosphere that persists in the most mundane of settings, each protagonist feels deeply human. They’re the precise opposite of the criticism occasionally levelled at fairy tales for having impossibly ‘good’ heroines: these women are allowed to make mistakes, to be selfish, and at times, to be cruel — and even then, they’re never treated as unworthy of redemption or too far gone to change for the better. (In case you hadn’t already guessed, I am always that one ‘redemption arc for villains’ person or the ‘I want to hear from the wicked witch, please’ person and I Will Not Apologise, thank you very much!) Charlotte-Rose, Selena, and Margherita all have interesting stories to tell from before we meet them; they have determination, talents, and passions to drive them; and crucially, they each long for something just out of their grasp, whether it’s independence and love and the ability to write novels in peace, power and perfection and vengeance, or simply freedom. This wonderful sense of humanity even extends to Forsyth’s background characters, giving the impression that they have hopes, dreams, and goals beyond the page even if they aren’t explicitly spoken aloud.

Unsurprisingly, given that the story is split between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there’s no small amount of misogyny in this world, whether it’s as overt as the brutality Selena witnesses as a young girl or thinly veiled behind the gilded glamour of the French court. When push comes to shove, though, there’s very little room for misogyny between the majority of the novel’s most prominent women. They may scheme against one another as they vie for the favour of the Sun King, but when a peer is in genuine need, they’ll band together to help her, which is the kind of thing I love to see in fiction and in real life! There’s plenty of romance here — we wouldn’t have the Rapunzel tale without the prince, after all, and any woman who dresses up as a dancing bear to sneakily visit her beloved deserves to have her story immortalised — but for me, the true love story in Bitter Greens is that of female friendship and solidarity, showing us glimpses of light when things look desperately dark for our heroines. Possibly one of my favourite elements of the entire book was the friendship between Charlotte-Rose and Sœur Seraphina. I badly wanted to join them as they sat together in the vegetable garden with the bees!

Bitter Greens is one of those rare books that almost begs to be savoured; I couldn’t help but want to stay behind and get lost in its pages rather than go to work or do anything productive. I was captivated by the evocative language, the braided-together stories of three disparate heroines, and the clever fusion of reality and magic, and I was delighted to learn that Forsyth has written several more fairy tale retellings! I’ll be making my way through those in short order! 💖
Profile Image for Meg - A Bookish Affair.
2,445 reviews191 followers
March 6, 2013
4.5 stars. Oh, this book! I really, really liked it! Part historical fiction, part fairy tale retelling, "Bitter Greens" has a lot of things that I really love! Historical fiction is one of my very favorite genres (maybe you've noticed?). I also really love fairy tale retellings. It's so much fun to see a new spin on a beloved story. This book is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale. It also tells the story of the woman credited with first writing the Rapunzel story and it tells the story behind the witch from the Rapunzel story.

I really loved the characters in this book. I find in a lot of books that tell stories about multiple characters, many times I really like the stories of one character more than others. In "Bitter Greens," I loved all of the stories of the characters. Each one is interesting in its own way. Forsyth really makes you care about all of the different characters. She even turns the witch, Selena, into a character that you can have some semblance of sympathy for by showing her back story.

I really liked the settings as well. Charlotte-Rose moves in and out of the royal courts of France. Her life isn't always good but I loved reading about her different dealings with the royals. France is one of my favorite places to read about! Margherita and Selena's stories both take place in Italy, which is amazing. I love, love, love reading about Italy. It truly is a magical place and the perfect setting for a fairy tale.

Unfortunately the book has not been released in the United States. This is the time where you get one of your friends overseas to get you this book! It's so good!

Bottom line: This book is a great historical fiction pick with a magical element!
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