Sunday, November 14, 2010

Review: The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory

The Wise Womany by Philippa Gregory
☆ ☆ ☆ 1/2

The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory takes place in Durham County England in 1535.
It was during this time that the English Reformation was put forth by King Henry VIII. Henry VIII sought out to split from the Roman Catholic Church because Queen Anne Boleyn failed to produce England with a male heir. In order for Henry VIII to be completely rid of Anne and be free to marry another, he accused her of witchcraft. Anne Boleyn was sentenced to die by the sword. This led Henry to pass the Anti-Witchcraft Law for England, which caused many English citizens to become paranoid. Anyone who looked out of the ordinary or seemed to be doing something suspicious was accused of being a witch. This sets the stage for Philippa Gregory’s book The Wise Woman.


Alys is an orphan raised by her foster mother the local town’s wise woman, Morach. She and Morach live in a tiny shack right off of Bowes Moor where they are labeled as outcasts. The town fears Morach, suspecting her of being a witch capable of performing dark magic. Alys is sent away to live with the local nuns by the parents of her childhood crush Tom. This was done to prevent Tom from marrying Alys because his parents saw her as a girl with no respectable family that could pay her husband a dowry.

On a cold dark night, Alys awoke to a smell of something burning. She soon realized that the entire Abbey was on fire and was under attack by Lord Hugo and his men. Upon leaving her room she noticed that she was the only one who was awake. The other sisters and Mother Hildebrand were unaware of the danger they were in, but Alys was worried that if she helped them escape that she would be dead too. So Alys ran as fast as she could away from the nunnery not knowing whether anyone survived the attack or not. She found herself back at Morach’s door begging her to take her back so long as she would not have to use her powers and could remain true to her vows.

Alys was once again forced into living with Morach and succumbed to the feeling of being unclean and famished. One day Alys was summoned to the castle of Lord Hugh. His health was failing and he begged her to work whatever magic she could to save him. She confessed that she was only an herbalist and did not partake in witchcraft. Lord Hugh soon grew found of Alys and offered to let her stay in the castle where she would become his clerk. She agreed in order to escape from Morach’s damp and filthy shack.

It did not take long for Lord Hugh’s son Hugo to become infatuated with Alys, which caused his wife Lady Catherine to become extremely jealous. Alys soon finds herself backed into a corner as a result of Lady Catherine’s outrageous accusations of her being a witch and hexing Hugo into loving her. For her own safety, Alys decides to set aside her vows and take up the powers she’s learned from Morach. The spell she conjures up becomes too powerful for her to control and so it takes on a life of its own. This puts Alys in mortal danger and on the path to self destruction. Does Alys rise so far to the top only to fall so low to where not even her powers can save her?

After reading this book, I can see why so many had a hard time even finishing it because of the combination of witchcraft and very erotic sex scenes. I must admit this is not Philippa’s best work but it does not deserve to be shunned like so many have done. I went in knowing there were to be some crazy sex scenes and so I was prepared for them when they appeared. I enjoy reading paranormal books so the witchcraft aspect didn’t bother me a bit, in fact I found it refreshing. It was nice to read something a little different from your typical HF books.

I did find the character of Alys to be a little disturbing at times. I kept questioning why she chose to do some of things she did. I knew she wasn’t making very wise choices that may cause her to dig her own grave, but I was curious as to where it was going to lead her in the end.

Overall, I was not too disappointed with this book. If you can accept the fact that there will be some crazy and also some disturbing sex scenes down the line then it shouldn’t be too bad. If you choose to read this book, don’t expect another Other Boleyn Girl or The White Queen. Expect something more like Wideacre. If you could handle Wideacre then it may be a good choice for you.

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