Tidelands shows England in the grip of witchmania and a civil war.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: August 2019
‘A sweeping new series with the story of a poor, uneducated midwife named Alinor who is tempted by a forbidden love affair–but all too aware of the dangers awaiting a woman who dares to step out of the place society carved for her.’ – Goodreads
Tidelands is Phillippa Gregory’s latest novel based in the mid-seventeenth century, telling the story of midwife and herbalist Alinor. With her husband missing, Alinor must find a way to survive and look after her two children, Alys and Rob. But with England in the grip of a civil war and ‘witchmania’ gripping the country, Alinor is in a precarious position – especially when she meets Father James, a priest on the run, for whom she risks everything.
I picked up Tidelands on the premise that it had everything I love in a historical fiction novel – the seventeenth century, an Outlander-esque protagonist and a forbidden love story. Despite Phillippa Gregory’s reputation for leaning more towards fiction than fact, I was still looking forward to reading this novel. And I really enjoyed it, up until the last one hundred pages or so.
He says that men and women can choose their destiny, that they shan’t be ruled by their betters. […] But nothing’s really changed. We might have got rid of the king but not of the rule of men.
Our protagonist Alinor begins her story by meeting the royalist priest Father James amongst the tidelands where she lives. Being a fugitive in Cromwell’s England, Alinor’s better nature gets the better of her, and she decides to shelter James for the night, before helping him through the marshes towards her local lord. From thereon, the two find themselves drawn to each other despite their love being forbidden. The next three hundred pages that follow are beautifully researched and written, being genuinely enjoyable to read. Alinor and James’ characters lean just enough away from Mary-sue to be believable, and I particularly loved Alys!
The problem with this novel? Too much build-up and not enough satisfying conclusion. Within the last portions of the novel, Alinor marries off one child (who is pregnant), gets halfway through a pregnancy, is accused of theft, trialed for witchcraft and then leaves in a dramatic exit for London. Tidelands definitely would have benefitted from spacing out its dramatic events. What begins as a solidly crafted story fizzles out in a lacklustre conclusion.