I always swear blind that I’ll never read another book by Philippa Gregory … and then I do. This one, despite being the sequel to the dreadful “Tidelands”, is really quite interesting, until the end where it becomes utterly farcical. All the main characters in it are fictional, so she can’t do too much distorting of the facts – although there are a few really amateurish blunders, surprising from someone who’s actually got a degree in history – and it covers quite a range of locations and themes. We jump about a lot between London and New England, and also spend quite a bit of time in Venice. The last few chapters are just silly beyond words, but most of it really isn’t bad.
Also, it raises the interesting question of what happened to old Roundheads. The Yorkists hung around like a bad smell for years, plotting comebacks. The Jacobites were still trying to make a comeback over 50 years after the Glorious Revolution. Then they somehow got turned into a romantic Lost Cause, as did the Confederates, and as to some extent did the Spanish Republicans. But what about the Roundheads, who won the war but lost the peace? I suppose it’s a difficult question, because … well, who *were* the Roundheads? Very few people set out in 1642 to execute the king, set up a republic, and try to force religious extremism on an unwilling country: most of them would have had aims similar to those which were actually achieved by the Whigs in 1688. However, in this book, we see a former Roundhead soldier living in New England, only to become disillusioned there by the treatment of the Native Americans.
A lot of loose ends aren’t tied up, so I assume that a further sequel’s planned. I’ll say I won’t read it, but then I will.
Amateurish blunders. The wife of a knight or baronet is Lady Surname. The daughter of, say, an earl is Lady First Name. Mixing them up is a common mistake, but a poor one. Illegitimate children cannot just be legitimised by their parents marrying years after their birth: it’s not that easy. No-one has ruined their life if they discover immediately after the marriage ceremony that their new spouse is a bad ‘un: they just need to get the marriage annulled. And Italians would not have been going on in 1670 about how the English were all obsessed with drinking tea! Tea only started to become popular in England in the 1660s.
The story. In the previous books, our “heroine” Alinor, a widow with two children, was tried as a witch after having an affair with a Catholic priest in disguise, by whom she’d become pregnant. As you do. This book, set 21 years later, finds Alinor and her daughter living and working in London, whilst her son has been working as a doctor in Venice. But then a Venetian noblewoman turns up with a baby, and says that the son’s drowned and she’s his widow and this is their child. And then the former priest turns up, having given up the priesthood, and says that he wants to marry Alinor so that their child can be his heir. But where is the child? There are two children, who’ve been brought up as the twin offspring of Alinor’s daughter Alys (who’s been abandoned by her husband). Is one of them actually the child of Alinor and the priest? Er, we don’t know. Alys claims that her mother miscarried, but it all seems a bit dubious, and the mystery’s never really cleared up. Presumably that’s been left for a future sequel?
Meanwhile … actually, the more I think about it all, the sillier it seems, not just the last few chapters but most of it! But it didn’t actually seem that bad at first. The Venetian noblewoman tries to seduce both the ex-priest and Alys. Then she says that she’s got a load of valuable antiques left to her by her first husband, and needs help to bring them to England and to flog them to rich courtiers. So the ex-priest helps her. Then agrees to marry her.
Meanwhile, Alinor, unconvinced that her son is dead, dispatches her granddaughter Sarah to Venice, to look for him. There are some genuinely interesting bits about life in Venice – the position of the Jews in the ghetto, and the denunciation process – but it all gets rather farcical as it turns out that he’s not dead after all, but is in prison, having been denounced by his wife and the bloke who was helping her with the antiques, with whom she was having an affair … but who then falls in love with Sarah. Furthermore, most of the antiques are forgeries. Then it turns out that the son is now working on the leper island, from which no-one ever escapes. But Sarah miraculously rescues him, and he, she and the antiques bloke all roll up at the church in London just as the bisexual widow is marrying the ex-priest. All is exposed. Oh, and the antiques bloke is the baby’s dad.
Hurrah! The ex-priest is saved (not that he really deserves to be). Er, no. It is declared that the bisexual widow’s marriage to Alinor’s son was unlawful because she’s a Catholic and he’s a Protestant. She and the ex-priest are both Catholics, but are both pretending to be Protestants. So that’s OK. So this marriage stands. And the ex-priest declares that he’s ruined. Er, even though the marriage hasn’t been consummated, so he could soon get it annulled. I did say that it got farcical, OK?!
In between all of this, we hear about Alinor’s brother, the aforementioned former Roundhead now living in America. Those sections are much better, and considerably less farcical.
It’s actually not as bad as it sounds! It does turn into a farce towards the end, but, for a while, it isn’t bad.