Book Review: Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

Tidelands, by Philippa Gregory

Published, in UK, by Simon and Shuster in 2019.

Philippa has written many bestselling novels. I think all of them are historical fiction, and a lot are based in Tudor or Georgian times in Britain. This lady is a master (mistress?) of her craft.

Tidelands is set in Sussex, on the south coast of England, in 1648, after King Charles the first has been captured by the armies of Parliament and before he was beheaded.

The story is about the vulnerability of a woman, Alinor, and her young family whose husband, a fisherman, is missing. The tumultuous Civil Wars tore and tattered the fabric of the whole society and, while this provided opportunities for many to improve their condition and position, it also made survival more tricky for those on the margins. This is a story about a character on the edge; the edge of the land, the edge of society, the edge of life.

The story is a romance, between Alinor, a poor, lonely woman, and James, a young Roman Catholic priest on a secret mission. Danger looms all around this mismatched pair. But Alinor has more to lose. She has to negotiate the intricate details of everyday life with her neighbours while trying to make sense of a gentleman showing her attention.

I felt the constriction of Alinor’s situation. She is so much on the margin of society that even when fortune favours her, there is danger from jealous neighbours. Alinor needs every ounce of fortune to survive and learn from her recent experiences. The writing kept me held in the story and Alinor’s isolation was well communicated.

The ending, and the end note, suggest that this is the start of a series of books following Alinor’s family. That’s a good thing to look forward to. I read the book to learn from Philippa about the times, my novels are set in the same period, and about how to develop and sustain tension. I also read it to enjoy the story. Objective achieved, on all three counts.

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