#1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory weaves an unforgettable tale of a young woman’s sorcery and desire in Henry VIII’s England, where magic, lust, and power are forever intertwined.
Growing up as an abandoned outcast on the moors, young Alys’ only company is her cruel foster mother, Morach, the local wise woman who is whispered to practice the dark arts. Alys joins a nunnery to escape the poverty and loneliness she has felt all her life, but all too soon her sanctuary is destroyed. King Henry VIII’s followers burn the holy place to the ground, and Alys only just manages to escape with her life, haunted by the screams of her sisters as they burned to death.
She finds work in a castle not far from where she grew up as an old lord’s scribe, where she falls obsessively in love with his son Hugo. But Hugo is already married to a proud woman named Catherine. Driven to desperation by her desire, she summons the most dangerous powers Morach taught her, but quickly the passionate triangle of Alys, Hugo, and Catherine begins to explode, launching them into uncharted sexual waters. The magic Alys has conjured now has a life of its own—a life that is horrifyingly and disastrously out of control.
Is she a witch? Since heresy means the stake, and witchcraft the rope, Alys is in mortal danger, treading a perilous path between her faith and her own power.
Philippa Gregory is one of the world’s foremost historical novelists. She wrote her first ever novel, Wideacre, when she was completing her PhD in eighteenth-century literature and it sold worldwide, heralding a new era for historical fiction.
Her flair for blending history and imagination developed into a signature style and Philippa went on to write many bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen.
Now a recognised authority on women’s history, Philippa graduated from the University of Sussex and received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is a Regent and was made Alumna of the Year in 2009. She holds honorary degrees from Teesside University and the University of Sussex. She is a fellow of the Universities of Sussex and Cardiff and an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck University of London.
Philippa is a member of the Society of Authors and in 2016, was presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Historical Fiction Award by the Historical Writers’ Association. In 2018, she was awarded an Honorary Platinum Award by Nielsen for achieving significant lifetime sales across her entire book output.
I'm a huge Philippa Gregory fan, so I don't know how the same author wrote this as wrote The Other Boleyn Girl and all those other excellent historical romances. This book really sucked! If I hadn't been out of town and away from a library, and if I'd brought anything else with me to read, I wouldn't have even finished it! And I'm a real stickler for finishing books, even bad ones, so that says it all right there. This book was really awful.
This is a brilliant dark story of a young girl and her quest to live like a queen. She wants the prize of 'lady of the house' and will stop at nothing to get it. She uses her power to reach for her dreams, only to realise that the prize wasn't hers. She is a false woman, and slowly becomes entrapped in her own lies. Despite the bleakness of the story and the wickedness of Alys, I still liked her. She felt she was destined for an important role, and went out to claim it. She sought love and didn't know what to do with it when she had it. As l was approaching the last few pages of the story I was wondering how on earth it could end, I was so looking forward to the birth of her child etc. Very interesting and thought provoking.
Is it possible to give less than one star? I think this may well be the worst book I've ever read all the way to the end. The "heroine" of the story was so selfish and unconcerned with anything but her own material pleasure that I swear I only finished the book in hopes that I'd get to see her die a brutal death at the end.
Set during beginnings of the English Reformation in the Tudor Era up in Durham County England (Northern Counties) this story follows the life of Alys as she manipulates and is manipulated by people and events. Glimpses of the well known people and events of the period are shown (Queen Catherine's being put aside/divorce, and death; Fall of Anne Boleyn; Jane Seymour's rise and so on) providing reference points and indicating why witchcraft (culminating in the the Anti-Witchcraft Law) was so heavily feared.
This review isn't the easiest to write. Alys initially is a semi-sympathetic main character pushed to and fro by the conditions, events, and people of the time in her own small way - being a small non-important person in terms of the "world stage". She is only nine when the story begins and understandably her worldview is shaped by her experiences and desires/wants. However she also displays some very terrible qualities which include betraying those who've taken time to care and help her after the halfway point in the book make her extremely hard to even like. In some facets this behavior is understandable, but not entirely. However by the time the betrayal events begin to happen she is old enough to know the consequences and know better. Even saving her own skin doesn't justify her actions - at least to me. She does illustrate the baser attributes of human nature cloaked in the concept of superstition and "sin". So it is an abstract commentary on that in its own way.
I'll illustrate some briefly. (spoilers under here) She is a foundling raised by a local wise-woman who has lost her own lands due to the actions of a malicious local farmer. (for gain)
At the age of about nine she is enticed into a nunnery. She wants this because it is clean, the food is plentiful, and she will be cared for and safe. Not a bad choice for a poverty stricken child. However to do this she must give up her childhood sweetheart (Tom). What is not immediately revealed is that Tom's parents decided that she was unsuitable after her foster mother lost her property and offered (basically gave) her to the Abbess. So that Tom would be free to marry another girl of their choosing.
She takes vows at age fourteen and by now is able to read and write.
The Nunnery is destroyed by fire (English Reformation) by the local lord's son during a night of debauchery and for financial gain. She is the sole* survivor.
Eventually she ends up at the local lord's castle and falls for the young lord**. (after the requisite moral struggle over being a fallen nun) Having turned to "the dark arts" she tries to kill his wife, and then does sacrifice her foster mother in an effort to save her own skin by accusing her of witchcraft (which the woman had naught to do with)
This gets you to about the halfway point in the book.
She gets darker from there but does gain what she wants.. kinda.. sorta.. well "be careful what you wish for" is a good example of the underlying premise of this book.
*not really but she thinks so for much of the book
** Which is another weird twist - as she knew he had destroyed the nunnery (et al) and ruined her life there. How she would even let herself fall fro him - no matter how "attractive" is beyond me. Admittedly it wouldn't have made for much of a plot otherwise but it seems so idiotic and trite. "here I've ruined everything you loved and wanted out of life.. now you desire me! Booyah! (hey I managed to put Booyah into a review! :D )
The setting is done well and illustrates much of the daily conditions of life then. I do think some of the clothing was a bit too fine for the young lord's wife - but it is a work of fiction. Ms. Gregory does well with her setting.
Because of the main character and some of the portrayal I cannot rate this as high as I might have otherwise due to the fact that having endured some of the ordeals she sends others through - blithely I may add - I wouldn't have thought she'd be that cruel. Even with the explanation of her darker nature taking over. Some of the extraneous (not to mention brutal) sex scenes were a bit much too. That last being a purely personal opinion.
Update: I didn't put this in originally because I wanted to check a few things. Having reviewed part of the novel and looked at some history I'm certain that this novel is a parallel telling of Henry VIII, his wives, and some of the surrounding important figures of the time done in microcosm. Some is a direct parallel, others are more an amalgam or analogical. Hugo is Henry (in composite of all his years), Catherine is Catherine of Aragon (also a slight amalgam of others including Queen Mary if you consider her pregnancy as a reference to her daughter), and Alys (aka Sister Ann) is reference to Anne Boleyn. I think Tom is a reference to Henry Percy, although it could also be a composite of someone from Anne Boleyn or Katherine Howard's past (youthful love). With the events of the English Reformation it highlights the internal and external machinations of the period.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This book is remarkable only in its utter awfulness.
I've read probably half a dozen of Gregory's books and have always enjoyed them. Usually fun, fluffy, and easy-to-read, her books serve as a nice palate cleanser after a particularly intense read. This one, however, left a decidedly bad taste in my mouth. I honestly believe that Gregory must have been going through some sort of crisis as a writer when she wrote this one. She mocks herself as a writer, her genre, and her readers.
Not a single character in this book was likeable; in fact, they were all despicable. Why would anyone want to read this drivel? Rapists, murderers, martyrs, rediculous witchcraft and black magic.... And no grounding at all in history.
Um, if you hadn't guessed yet, I do not recommend this book to anyone!
I can't decide whether I really like the book or it was a waste of my time....
***Spoiler alert*** Personally, I don't find Alys, the supposed protagonist, sympathetic or likable. She is motivated by self-preservation, greed, and pure selfishness. I wanted to know what made her this way, but all I got was that she was probably starved for affection when she was a toddler but when she joined the nunnery, she was loved by the head mistress. There was a lot of affection and expectation. So, it still really didn't explain this interesting, but frustrating character trait.
What I found hard to understand was that she killed, more like sacrificed, her first "mother" firgure in order to save her own hide when this woman was infact trying to help her. Then she denied even knowing her loving second "mother" figure even as this second woman was sentenced to death by fire.
To be sure, I don't know what it's like to be driven by self-preservation under the constant threat of death by hanging (being a witch) or by burning at the stake (being a heretic). This, of course, is on top of all the other unpleasant possibilities of being tossed out without any viable means to support herself.
But something about this character strikes me as partially unbelieveable. I just don't buy that Alys would act the way she does in the book, and I don't buy the ending. The author, through the reading club questions, implies that Alys chose to die with Mother Hildebrand, but it doesn't ring true with me. I think she dreamt the ending while sleeping in her comfortable bed with Hugo's heavy arm slung over her swollen belly.
It was interesting to see how Henry VIII's marriage woes (for the wives, that is) affected the kingdom in general.
Would I recommend the book? I would, with some hesitation, but ultimately, this book left me unsatisfied, with the ending, with Alys, and with the fate to two mother figures.
This is definitely different from other books by Gregory, it is so much darker than her norm but I liked that a lot! There were some scenes where I was totally shocked that I was even reading a book by her (the birthing scene, the orgy, etc). I absolutely hated Alys's character because she was such a shitty person, and I was really surprised at how cruel she could be and how she could betray everyone she ever loved so quickly. Again, I'm not used to such characters in Gregory's Tudor series. Speaking of, and I know another reviewer has mentioned this as well, the life at Castleton was a complete parallel to life at Henry VIII's court. I've heard some people say that they were bored with parts of this book, but if you aren't aware of Tudor history, then it's bound to be boring to you lol. For example: Hugo is Henry, unable to father a son on anyone so he plans to set his wife aside for an heir. Catherine is Catherine of Aragon, set aside by her husband and forced to watch as he courts other women who bring about her downfall. She dies in loneliness and disgrace, just as Catherine of Aragon did. And Alys "Sister Ann" is Ann Boleyn, who is insanely ambitious and will do anything in her power to keep the kings love and conceive a son. Ann Boleyn was also accused to witchcraft many times.
As for the ending, I'm pretty disappointed. There was all this buildup and fear of Morach's ressurection and of the little dolls finding her and I was actually really hoping that they would, as mean as that sounds, because she deserved it! Lol. It was just anticlimactic at the end :-/
So I am currently making my way through all Gregory’s novels. I am a huge fan of the Tudor court novels which meant Gregory was propelled to the top 5 of my favourite authors in my teens.
All I can say is that these ‘early’ novels are quite out there! I’m not sure what I just read, and actually I am a little grossed out. However, that being said, I was still gripped and the ending did have some impact on me. It was a jaw hanging open moment for sure. I loved that about this novel, the shock and surprise throughout. What will this girl do next? How can love and obsession propel you to do the most desperate acts.
This novel remains in the historical fiction category that Gregory excels at, and follows our main lady Alys as she navigates her way through Henry VIII Tudor period. Alys is strong willed and will do anything to win the man she loves, Hugo. Anything, including witchcraft, which paves the way for a troubling and tense novel. It’s quite thought provoking to say the least, and makes you realise how dreadful these women had it in this time period. Gregory’s writing does not disappoint.
The reason I scored this 3 stars is that this book went places I was not expecting and to be honest there is one part of this book (if you have read It you will know) that was so out there that it bordered along the lines of fantasy. I was actually quite sickened and I did think It was all a little too much! However I do appreciate It was part of the tale it just felt a bit extreme for me and I did have to put the book down as I was so stunned. At places I did feel uncomfortable and a little freaked out but Is It not good writing that pushes you to feel these things? I’m undecided as to whether I liked it as It took me to the unexpected or just felt completely grossed out.
Regardless, I can’t wait to see what the next novel brings!
Very nicely written, intriguing book. I love absolutely every book written by Phillipa Gregory. She writes from the woman perspective and she seems to be a medium and a very good psychologist to be able to transfer so many feelings in her writings. Is like she was there and is telling the true story. Amazing!
Bad. Just...bad. Poorly written with awkward, repetitive, bland prose + flat, unsympathetic characters. Blech. I know it was published early in PG’s career, but compared to other Gregory efforts from that era it felt like a ghostwriter stepped in to flesh out a cocktail napkin’s worth of plot outline.
No doubt these characters are *supposed* to be repulsive, but it’s a fine line between anti-heroic personages you still care about & zero-positive douchebags you would happily fling off a cliff. To contrast: PG’s own WIDEACRE is a tragedy-heavy story that involves flawed, nasty people that you can’t help being interested in despite their worst traits. WISE WOMAN? Nope. This cast is universally horrible & thoroughly unpleasant with no perceivable goal to revise or redeem them in the reader’s eyes. After a certain point I realized I was still reading only out of stubbornness; I neither wanted them to be saved nor even cared why they failed at rescuing themselves—instead I was (impatiently) waiting for them to die & have done with it.
Other issues: the supernatural/horror aspects of this book were ridiculous & didn’t mesh with the bland, ordinary soap of Alys’ companions. It felt like PG had two novellas at hand (a boring plot-bunny about a Tudor-era healing woman, & a bizarro horror short about horny witches & living wax dolls that she wrote while hopped up on cold medicine) so she decided to combine them to meet an editor’s deadline. Everything was choppy, cardboard, & lacked any real flow; indeed, there were multiple plot holes that drove me nuts. It was also 100-150 pages too long with interminable stretches of meandering crap & repetitive dialogue.
I probably shouldn’t give it 2 stars. But I did manage to finish it—the trainwreck aspect was strong—so that’s enough to round up.
Ok at one time, this book was hard to find. The only way I was able to get it was through Amazon. But now that Philipa Gregory has become a household name among Henry the Vlll fanatics as myself, it is available again. The book is a grisly tale about dark powers and desires. It is a tale of passion and witchcraft in 16th century England. Alys is raised by Morach who is a feared wise-woman of the moors. Alys does not like living with her so joins a Catholic nunnery. One day a young lord, Hugo and his men burn the abbey to the ground during a drunken rage, and Alys is the only one to escape and run back to Morach. She has lots of guilt for abandoning her dying nuns and this guilt stays with her through the book. Eventually, Alys and Hugo do meet again for she once again leaves Morach and becomes a sort of minister to his father, helping him with his letter writings, etc. That is where things start to get out of hand. Attracted to Hugo regardless of his murderous past, Alys starts practicing Witchcraft to rid him of his wife Catherine. Her spells start to work all to well and things get way out of hand and beyond her control. Philippa Gregory brings out a hair-raising horror and suspense novel that was so brilliantly written, it blew me away. I really thought it was far more intriguing than "The other Boleyn Girl." This is probably the darkest novel she has ever written. All should read this.
Better than her Queen books. Not as good as the Virgin Earth and Earthy Joys. The "Wise Woman" is anything but. In fact she's a despicable young thing who lives in a convent for the love of it's good food and shelter. She escapes when it is burned and pillaged and believes her Mother Superior is dead. She ends up in at a castle,and becomes whore to the local nobleman, using her witch skills to enslave him.
She eventually betrays the old healer/witch who reared her before and after the convent. It gets rather horrible with some wax voodoo dolls that come to life. Then she betrays the Mother Superior who wasn't dead after all.
An exciting page turner which could have been shorter. It seemed like the author kept saying the same things over and over again.
Finally redemption comes on the very last page when she flings herself upon the Mother Superior's fire (who's being burned as a heretic). This change was so out of character! It comes out of left field with no explanation. There were also some plot lines that were left hanging. She never finished the scene where the wax doll demons were seen walking towards the castle!
I would love for my book club ladies to read and analyze this one.
All the while I was reading this book, I wondered what sort of reaction other people on Goodreads would have. I knew some of them would hate it. From the first chapter it was clear to me that this book was written before Gregory started cranking out the queen books that put her on the literary map. While I have read, and enjoyed, all of those books, she was constrained, for the most part, by history and the truth. She played with the facts and fictionalized them somewhat, but in "The Wise Woman" she goes hog wild with her imagination.
Nope, Alys ISN'T likable; in fact, she's pretty horrible. That doesn't make it a badly-written book. I found it fascinating. Every day I looked forward to reading more, and when I got near the last section I tried to slow down so it wouldn't end. Some reviewers have complained about the ending, but I think they may be judging hastily. Since I just finished the book last night, however, further comment about the ending would be hasty on my part, too. :)
Oh, yeah: If you don't want to read any sex scenes, particularly somewhat kinky ones, this book is not for you. :)
I have read almost all of Philippa Gregory’s other novels and I am now going back to some of her “older” books. Finding The Wise Woman, I was excited to read it but after the first few pages I was utterly disappointed. It was a struggle just to complete the book and I always finish books no matter how good or bad. If I had not read her other books to know I enjoy her as an author I would have walked away from this book and never picked up on of her books again. The main character was utterly unsympathetic, as were most of the other characters. As a result, it was hard to get invested in any of their outcomes. The portions of the book concerning witchcraft were interesting but I am not into fantasy so it was a tad far fetched. Over all a terrible, horrible, no good very bad book.
I'm not quite sure how to rate this book; I think it's actually a 1.5. I did finish it, and it kept me interested, but sorta like a train wreck is interesting. Most of the time, I was horrified and disgusted. So, I guess I finished it out of a deep desire to see if Alys gets what she deserves, in the end. Unfortunately, I picked up this book because I love most of what Phillipa Gregory writes. Yes, I did read the Wideacre trilogy, and was disgusted w/ book 1. Books 2 & 3 are much better, in my opinion. But even Beatrice with all her faults is not so thoroughly unlikable as Alys is. She is motivated by greed and self-preservation, pure and simple. She's mean, whiny, rude, a liar, a master manipulator, greedy, and a heartless, worthless, vascillating tramp who is uncapeable of loving anyone but herself. Alys can't make up her mind about anything. Is she a nun or a witch? Does she love Hugo or hate him? Is she pure or a whore? Does she want Hugo or not? Truly, the ONLY character in the entire book with a shred of any redeeming quality is Mother Hildebrand, and she is treated horribly by Alys and others. If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and don't. You'll sleep much better.
This book was right up my alley so even though the reviews weren't glowing, I had to read it. I liked the setting and the premise, and especially liked how there was a little, but not a lot, of magic. It was a normal world just had some magic in it. I was surprised at how little time passed in the book. I thought like at least 2 years had passed until it was mentioned that it had only been 10 months. I was surprised how rather suddenly she became a bad horrible person. She pretty much never felt guilt or remorse. I kind of wished she had, so that there would be some redeeming quality to her. It never seemed to bother her that she had no friends; I think it should've bothered her. She should've been inclined to confess to a priest. (Since magic is real in this book, religion could have been real - confessing her sins could have actually made everything right, rid the influence of evil or the devil or whatever from her.) The secretive evil ways she treated the people in her life, who, for the most part were fairly good to her, made her very unlikeable. She was heartless.
I think the ending could have used some more detail. I would've liked to know her thought process a little more in those last moments.
It was a page turner and because of that and it being just the kind of setting/world and premise that I like, I give it 4 stars.
I was disappointed in this book after The Other Boleyn Girl. The main character was utterly unsympathetic, as were most of the other characters. As a result, it was hard to get invested in any of their outcomes. In addition, it lacked the complicated politics of Gregory's other work, but carried on some of the same themes in a thin echo of what I know that she can do.
What the hell kind of stupid ending was that?! OK, I was ... somewhat enthralled with the historical fiction and the witchcraft angle; I've never before read Gregory but she's gotten glowing reviews from people whose opinion I respect. I knew there was going to be an issue with this book almost from the first page... but I am also one of those people who are loathe to cast aside a book before it's finished. I disliked the main character (can't call her a "heroine," can I?) from the very beginning... and it's TORTUOUS to read the whole story of a character who's a complete idiot. OK that's not the right insult. Flawed characters make for intriguing stories... this woman was just ... horrible. Unlikable. I HAD to finish reading this book because I really wanted her to die. Horribly. And she does. And it didn't make me feel better. I would be remiss if I didn't mention I still think Philippa Gregory is a great author. She writes a compelling drama. Set in the 15th century, this is a rich tale, sets the mood of the time, it's dark and bawdy, there's witchcraft and melodrama and obsessive love. And yet, I don't think there was one single character in this story I liked, connected with, or felt something for. Alys/Sister Ann, the main character - well... glad she's dead. Morach, her wise-woman tutor/mother figure... interesting character, but not inherently likable. Lady Catherine: selfish and jealous, desperate, quite pervy. Hugo, selfish, egotistical, spoiled-brat, rogue... boring. Incredible pervert. Same kinda goes for his father... the old lord Hugo. He's the only one I came close to liking, although I wouldn't have cared if he died a horrible death either. I can only guess why anyone would spend this much time and effort writing a novel about such a loathsome, dishonest, back-stabbing, murderous creature -- except to piss people off. MIssion Accomplished. Two stars are for the medieval history/witchcraft angle, which were well done.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This is the first book by Philippa Gregory that I have not enjoyed reading - I finished it because I wanted to know what happened, but I found Alys to be the the least likeable main character of any book I have read for a long time. Also although I like fantasy and science fiction I prefer it in books within those genre's not in a book I am reading for historical context. I have read other books about witches in this period and they were much better as they did not resort to fantastical elements - although I suppose that could have been considered to be in Alys' mind.
Alys joins a nunnery to escape the poverty of her life on the moor with her foster mother, Morach, the local wise woman with whom she lives as an outcast, but she soon finds herself thrown back into the world when Henry VIII's wreckers destroy her sanctuary. Summoned to the castle as the old lord's scribe, she falls obsessively in love with his son Hugo, who is married to Catherine. Driven to desperation by her desire, she summons the most dangerous powers Morach has taught her, but soon the passionate triangle of Alys, Hugo, and Catherine begins to explode, launching them into uncharted sexual waters. The magic Alys has conjured now has a life of its own -- a life that is horrifyingly and disastrously out of control.
Is she a witch? Since heresy means the stake, and witchcraft the rope, Alys is in mortal danger, treading a perilous path between her faith and her own female power.
I'm pissed!! I read this more than ten years ago as a library book, and just bought a new copy, and it turns out she rewrote it! I want the old version, where the perverted little heroine falls in love with the guy who put a leash and collar on her mom after sacking their castle, not where the heroine is a nun!
I want to read the original novel, dammit.
I had noticed that Philippa Gregory seemed ashamed of this book, never listing it along with her historical novels. Now it's back, but she's changed the whole thing so it seems like it fits in with her other Tudor England books.
I wonder what kind of negotiations went on with the publisher about rewriting this. All the really nasty perverted stuff is still in there in the middle, so I guess Ms Gregory wasn't ashamed of it as much as she just wanted to make it more historical.
Darn, now I'll have to track down the original version just to prove that I didn't imagine the whole thing.
This is an amazing, disturbing, absorbing, and incredibly nuanced metaphorical book. I don't want to spoil the read, but the ending, though a big surprise, makes perfect sense. I see a lot of parallels between the characters Alys and Catherine, with Mary and Ann in The Other Boleyn Girl. It's no coincidence since they both take place in the same time period, which was a very difficult time to be a woman and Papist. And a witch or anyone gifted with healing or sight, of course, which is the main theme of The Wise Woman. Alys was difficult to like, partially because she was so unpredictable but that is a function of Ms. Gregory's rather shallow point of view during some very dramatic scenes. She uses omniscient point of view to portray situations through the eyes of other characters. It is executed well enough to not feel like head hopping, but that pulls the main character's emotion and motivation out of the story.
Dumb, dumb, dumb. Through much struggle and perserverance I finished this book but wow what a ridiculous story line. I kept waiting for it to all fit together and become a remarkable book (much like Gregory's other novels). It was just so far fetched that it made it completely silly - not to mention the story written to a little over 500 pages could have been told that in have the pages.
What a waste of trees!
I will read Gregory again but this was a shocker of a disappointment - I wonder how she could have written this.
Not to mention the characters where completely the carbon copies of the 'typical' king, queen etc etc. Not orginal personalities at all.
Alot of sex - didn't bother me but in no way 'scarey' or haunting.
I recommend Greggory for a good read but please save your time and read another of her novels.
This historical fiction begins in 1540 and follows the tragic life of seventeen-year-old Alys, a young peasant girl in Tudor England. Alys grew up on the moor with a harsh foster-mother called Morach, the local wise woman. But turning her back on superstition and the pagan arts, Alys decides to join a nunnery. For a time she finds contentment in this orderly sanctuary. She enjoys the rigid structure, comparative luxury, and safety afforded to the Holy Sisters.
But Alys happiness is short lived. One night the monastery burns to the ground, a casualty of King Henry's Reformation, and the young woman is summoned to the local castle to work as a scribe for the ailing lord of the manor. Here she falls in love with his married son and heir, Lord Hugo. She grows intently jealous of the Lady Catherine, and seeks to replace her in Hugo's bed. Calling on all the cunning tricks she recalls from living with Morach, Alys devises a difficult, disturbing plot to gain her heart's desire. At this point the novel slips into magical realism.
Gregory's story has many Faustian overtones. Alys conjures up the powers of darkness to possess the man she fixates on, aware that her actions are prompted by self-promotion rather than genuine love. By the end of the book the Wise Woman is exposed as self-centered, unlikable, and evil - and therefore she meets with a hellish end.
The Wise Woman can also be read as a morality tale. Although Alys is a victim of historical circumstance, feudalism, and gender, she serves as a warning against forbidden love and obsession. She tries to take the rightful place of another woman - a place where she can never truly belong. Alys discovers she has the power to unleash terrible things on the world but by the time she realizes she has little control over them, it is too late to go back. She sinks further and further into witchcraft.
I enjoyed the atmospheric setting of Gregory's novel, and not expecting to sympathize with the central characters I was pleased to find them portrayed in a refreshingly honest way - warts and all! The historical research is sound and convincing, and while I am not a great fan of magical realism any book set in the medieval era must acknowledge the common beliefs of that time.
This is not a feel-good story. It suggests everything in Alys' world is a sham - magic, life, love, faith, and family. But one of the great joys of reading is the ability to close the book at any point and find yourself back in the twenty-first century.
This was the first Philippa Gregory novel I had ever read (found it at the grocery store in 1992), and definitely the best of them all. I had to do a reread because to this day it haunts me still.
Alys is a changeling child left on the doorstep of the old wise woman Morach. One day Alys runs into the abbess of the local abbey, and without looking back, leaves Morach, her herbs, dirt and dark magic behind to serve as a novice in the herb room.
Summoned by the Lord Hugh, Alys goes to the castle to help the heir’s wife, Catherine, during her pregnancy. Now that Alys has seen something better, she wants it with all her heart. And what she wants is young Hugo, who takes her to bed. But Alys wants the prize - she wants to be Hugo’s lady.
From here, Alys walks a fine line between saint and sinner; navigating the dangerous politics of the day with her need to use dark magic to secure her place.
I found this book utterly fascinating then and now. We are all Alys at some point - a woman battered down by life, men, society, and having to use every trick in the grimoire to grasp some semblance of power for ourselves.
This was a tragic book - utterly so.
Alys is a deeply flawed - but completely believable - character. The depths to which she will go to achieve her desires is staggering, but when one thinks of the place of women in Tudor society, understandable at times. Dark, disturbing, brilliant and more, you won't be disappointed.
Oh God, what made me read this book? WHY? Just like- probably- most people, I made it to the end just to see the protagonist die. I'm surprised that Philippa Gregory, who's one of my favorite authors, has written something that... well, bad. Alys is a terrible main character- actually, she has no character, which is the major problem with this book. You just can't bring yourself to like her. In fact, there are no likeable characters in the book, and it seems that they spend all of their time eating, drinking and- excuse my French- fucking. Ah, sex. Well, this book looks like Gregory's attempt at writing something like 50 shades of Grey. Like, seriously, the sex scenes are horrid, there's nothing sexy or romantic about them. Some parts of this book are weak attempts at horror, including dark magic and voodoo dolls, and some of the resulting scenes are simply repulsive, with the birth-giving scene on top of everything else. And the plot doesn't really make much sense. Some parts remain unresolved, some seem to be going nowhere, and the final scene- where did that one come from? All in all, I heartily don't recommend this book to anyone. A waste of time- and a badly written one.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.