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Reviewed by Marisa Deshaies
An intimate look at the livelihoods of those who are willing to sacrifice life and limb for survival, Bitter Greens weaves the story of the Rapunzel fairy-tale with the true-life account of one of its first storytellers. Author Kate Forsyth uses the power of word-weaving, detailed historical facts, and three braided storylines to bring to life one of the lesser-known fairy-tales of storytelling lore.
Told from the perspective of three very different women, Bitter Greens brings readers into Venice, Paris, and Versailles. Charlotte-Rose de la Force is a scandalous woman of her time. Banished from the court of King Louis XIV, Charlotte-Rose is imprisoned in a nunnery for a love affair that did not please the king. While locked away in her prison, Charlotte-Rose becomes enamored by a nun, who takes it upon herself to help Charlotte through her imprisonment by retelling the story of Rapunzel. Margherita—the name Forsyth gives her Rapunzel figure—is given away by her parents at a young age after her father steals a handful of bitter greens from Selena Leonelli’s garden. Selena, a beautiful courtesan from Venice, is the muse of the Venetian artist Tiziano. For sixty-four years she has enamored Tiziano, but along the way Selena has decided that everlasting youth and beauty—and thus the unfortunate repercussions for children—are more powerful than love. Equal parts the stories of Selena, Margherita, and Charlotte-Rose, Forsyth’s novel is captivating with its historical research that demonstrates that the concepts of black-and-white are not always applicable when circumstances—rather than individual choices—dictate decisions.
Forsyth excels in her ability to utilize emotions and description in Bitter Greens. Despite her characters’ flaws and sometimes-unfortunate choices, all three women are endearing, compelling, and likable. Forsyth spans her braided plotlines through paralleling the women’s stories: their desires and the challenges they face are ultimately controlled by others. Even with their strengths—determination, passion, talent, and bravery amongst others—Selena, Charlotte-Rose, and Margherita are forced to abandon their hopes and dreams for lives dependent upon dark magic, revenge, and power. The descriptions of the settings provide a strong backdrop for the characters’ actions. Forsyth’s evocative language brings Venice, Paris, and Versailles to life—almost as if the settings were characters themselves.
Bitter Greens is much more than a fairy-tale retelling; this novel is historical in its facts, compelling in its writing, thorough in its research, and approachable in its characterization. In its five-hundred-some pages, Forsyth reaches out to readers through multiple means that touch emotions, intellectual stimulation, and historical stirrings that will captivate readers of novels of all genres. This novel is recommended for readers who enjoy history, fairy-tale retellings, and contemporary women’s fiction.
An alumna of the University of Delaware’s English department, Marisa holds a Master’s degree in professional writing from New England College. Her dream job is to work as an editor for a publishing company. A voracious reader of all types of literature, her favorite genres include the classics, contemporary and historical fiction, Christian fiction, and women’s “chick-lit”.
Review and giveaway copies were provided by Thomas Dunne Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.