Tidelands by Philippa Gregory
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a free ARC of this novel. Regardless of the way I acquired the novel, the thoughts, opinions, and views stated in this review are completely unbiased and one hundred percent my own.
I love Philippa Gregory’s writing. I realized when I picked this up from the library (because it’s a backlisted ARC, and I prefer to read physical copies of books) that I had actually only read one of Gregory’s novels prior to picking up this one. Which is such a shame! If you haven’t experienced her writing, and you’re interested in historical fiction that most of the time errs on the side of historical and less fiction, her work would be perfect for you.
I sat down to begin this review literal minutes after finishing this novel. My thoughts are so fresh, my emotions so raw, I knew I couldn’t wait until the next day before putting down this review.
I loved the first half of this novel. Gregory’s writing is the most immersive, and descriptive I’ve ever experienced. Each of her books transports you to their time period, and to their location. I felt wet and cold the entire time I read this story, and it didn’t help that it was raining constantly where I live while I was reading.
It felt so good to be back in a Gregory novel, until I was harshly reminded of how horrid this time period was for everyone, especially women. Oh my gosh, it was horrific when the Lord of these tidelands casually suggested that his preteen-aged son take any girl(s) of his choosing around back and have a quick romp with her. And he said this to those girls fathers, no less! Those men were forced to laugh along, as if it was all such a big joke, because he owned every single person, their land, and everything they made or crafted themselves. It was absolutely disgusting learning about the abuse our main character, Alinor, suffered at the hands of her drunk husband, who to her great fortune and even greater misfortune, abandoned her and her two children.
The first half of this novel was a breeze to read. There were minimal mentions of these saddening and deplorable acts. Instead we were able to learn more about the tidelands, Alinor and her children’s daily lives, and we watched as Alinor fell in love for perhaps the first time. As she found love she found courage, and throughout the novel we see her unyielding strength grow with each calamity that befalls her.
I really didn’t know what to expect when it came to her love interest, James. James was a priest, or a spy, or all of the above, and vowed to never love anyone but God. That was, until he met Alinor. I rooted for James, who struggled to learn what was the right thing: fighting for the woman he loved or the religion he’d been bred for. In the end, he fought for neither, and I was earnestly disheartened by his lack of action.
Then came the second half of the book. This was not an enjoyable experience for me, at all. It was like being in an emotionally abusive relationship, where the thing you loved would deliver a blow to the gut, and then you would make up and forget how much they had hurt and betrayed you. The second half of this novel was betrayal, followed up by courage and strength, not to be overshadowed or outdone by an even worse betrayal. It was honestly rough to read. I even skipped to the last page, just to see if Alinor made it out of this novel alive.
I was equally crushed by the first novel I read of Gregory’s, so I’m not sure why this pattern surprised me so much? Objectively, this is a great novel: wonderfully written, eloquent storytelling, descriptively immersive, and intriguing. Personally, this was not enjoyable for me for the last 200 pages. This was heartbreaking.
I don’t think this book or the story is inherently bad. I think it’s not quite right for me. I’m a mood reader. I read things depending on how I’m feeling or how I want to be feeling. Tidelands was emotionally taxing and draining for me, and it just left me melancholy. I try to avoid feeling depressed at all costs! (duh). That’s why I tend to read stories about adventures, love stories, magic, and things that inherently make me happy!
While this book didn’t turn out the way I was hoping, I still think a ton of people would really like it. Heck, I did really like the book; I hated the things that happened to Alinor.