Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Bitter Greens - Kate Forsyth - Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour

Today I am delighted to be taking part in the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth.

‘Her parents had sold her to a sorceress for a handful of bitter greens…parsley, wintercress and rapunzel.’

This beautiful novel has at its heart three women and three stories which are all combined to create a very special and enchanting tale. It is a gorgeous hardback edition, beautifully finished, making it a joy to look at, hold and read. The story is beautifully written, and it makes for an engrossing historical fiction read. In part it is a retelling of a classic fairytale, Rapunzel. But it is so much more than this too.

Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, to give her her full title, is appalled to have been banished from the royal court of Louis XIV at Versailles to instead spend her days in a nunnery. She tells us that she 'had always been a great talker and teller of tales', and this time her storytelling has cost her dearly. She has a talent for tales, a great imagination and a way of captivating her audience. She is depicted as a strong and independent woman, but the times she lived in severely restrained her ability to become everything she hoped she could be:

‘I had thought I could bend the world to my will. I had thought I could break free of society’s narrow grooves, forging a life of my own desire. I had thought I was the navigator of my soul’s journey. I had been wrong.’

As is noted in the foreword to the book, she was in fact a real person who wrote one of the earliest versions of the Rapunzel story, under the name ‘Persinette.’

The second strand to the narrative begins the retelling of the tale we know as Rapunzel; the character who is named Margherita here. The story takes us back to the sixteenth century to meet a little seven-year-old girl in Venice upon the day that will change her life. She becomes trapped in a tower with little hope of escape, weighted down by lengths of red-gold hair. Despite, or perhaps because of, the physical constraints she finds herself in, Margherita turns to her imagination to escape the tower:

‘So she lay in her bed, as snug as she could make herself, and imagined herself out in the world, having all kinds of grand adventures: fighting giants; defeating witches; finding treasure; sailing the seven seas; singing at the courts of kings.’

The third woman to feature in this story is Selena Leonelli, who encounters the artist Titian as part of her story and recounts the events of her life that have shaped her dark character, rendering her frightened of the passage of time.

The stories of the three women are captivating and held my interest and attention whilst reading; they were brought vividly to life for me, I wondered about their lives, felt drawn into their adventures, was moved by their plights and the different ways in which they all seemed trapped. Three distinctive women with fascinating journeys through life, often fraught with danger, beset by sadness, but all strong and courageous. I felt frustration at the restricted position life offered them as women living back then. I think I liked Charlotte most of all; such a strong woman for her times and evidently influenced by her mother. It was enjoyable how the story moved about between the three women and the episodes looking back in time added another dimension to the tale and gave insight into the each character's formative years. 

The attention to detail in Kate Forsyth’s writing is excellent and brings the period settings to life vividly, but this never holds up the advancement and intrigue of the narrative, which the author keeps moving satisfyingly and effortlessly throughout.  

I found great pleasure in sitting back and reading this impressive novel and I think it will appeal to many readers who like a combination of accomplished historical fiction with romance plus a fairytale, fantasy element. I enjoyed escaping back in time and getting lost in this layered, imaginative, magical story every time I picked the book up. Bitter Greens is definitely one of the highlights of my reading in 2013 so far.

Thank you very much to Amy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for inviting me to be part of this tour.

Published by Allison & Busby

Thanks very much to the publisher and the tour host for kindly providing a copy of this novel to read and review.

About the Author

Kate Forsyth is the award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 books for adults and children, translated into 13 languages. She was recently named in the Top 25 of Australia's Favourite Novelists. Since The Witches of Eileanan was named a Best First Novel by Locus Magazine, Kate has won or been nominated for many awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US. She’s also the only author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year, for her Gypsy Crown series of children's historical novels. Kate’s latest novel, Bitter Greens, interweaves a retelli
ng of the Rapunzel fairytale with the scandalous life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer Charlotte-Rose de la Force. It has been called ‘the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter’ and ‘an imaginative weaving of magic, fairy tale and history’. A direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia, Kate is currently studying a doctorate in fairy tales at the University of Technology in Sydney, where she lives by the sea, with her husband, three children, and many thousands of books.

Please visit Kate Forsyth's WEBSITE and BLOG for more information.  You can also find her on FACEBOOK and follow her on TWITTER.


  1. Sounds great, I must get my hands on a copy of this

    1. Thanks very much for commenting Tracy. This is a really lovely read. I hope you enjoy it if/when you read it.

  2. Thank you so much for your beautiful review - I found it so moving and you really seemed to understand what I was trying to do! I appreciate it so much :)

    1. Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment Kate! It means a lot to me. I loved this story. Look forward to your next! All the best :)

  3. Replies
    1. Great to read that you loved it too Sam! Thanks for commenting.


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