For years, I read Philippa Gregory’s books faithfully, but at some point I decided that she was just cranking them out, so I stopped. I felt that less attention was going to such things as fully realized setting and well-rounded characters.
Recently, however, I noticed that she was doing something different with Tidelands, so I thought I’d give her another try. This book is set in the 17th century and features a heroine living in poverty.
Alinor is a wise woman—a healer and a midwife who does not deal in magic and charms and is very concerned, as she has to be, about her reputation. It is in jeopardy, because her husband has disappeared, and if he has deserted her, she will be considered a loose woman. So, on Midsummer’s Eve at midnight, she goes to the church believing she will see the ghost of her husband if he is dead.
She does not see her husband but a total stranger. He is a young man, a gentleman in difficulty, who introduces himself as James Summer but is a Catholic priest in a time when Catholicism has been banned in England. He is traveling and was supposed to find refuge with Sir William Peachey, but Sir William is not home. Although she is Protestant, Alinor is not much concerned with religion, so she gives him refuge overnight in her shed and leads him through the marshes in the morning to consult with Sir William’s steward.
As a result of her actions, Sir William gives her son a place as his son’s companion. This is a step up for him, and she is grateful. James Summer masquerades as a tutor for Sir William’s son, but he is really there to help free King Charles, in prison on the Isle of Wight.
Unlikely enough, I thought, James and Alinor fall in love. James begins to lose faith in his religion and his king as events progress. But he is a priest, and Alinor is married, and on the Isle of Wight, he encounter’s Alinor’s husband, who does not intend to return.
For a long time I found the situation unconvincing and considered dropping the book. The ending, however, was surprising and affecting, so I’ve changed my mind. I’m willing to try the second book of this series.