Book review and giveaway: Bitter Greens – I love France #113


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Bitter Greens

Bitter Greens

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book for free
in exchange
for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated
for this post as a reviewer,
and the thoughts are my own.
Bitter Greens
Kate Forsyth
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date: September 23, 2014 

ISBN10: 1250047536
Pages: 496

Historical/Fantasy/Fairy-Tale Retellings
Source: Received for a
virtual book tour on HFVBT


Buy the Book

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

      books-on-france-14 New author challenge   2014 historical fiction


new eiffel 5

This book left me totally stunned by its structure and quality. It is really a masterpiece, with an amazing blend between historical fiction and a double retelling in fact, of  the fairy tale Rapunzel.
You may know Rapunzel as a work of the Grimm Brothers in 19th century Germany. They actually found their inspiration in the fairy tale Persinette by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force, which was originally published in France in 1698, being itself a variation on an even older Italian tale. Literary critics are debating how Charlotte-Rose, who did not know Italian despite her vast culture, may have known of this tale.
In Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth imagines a solution to this enigma, which seems totally plausible.
She puts all this together by telling us about the life of Charlotte-Rose, about her retelling of the tale, and about the original itself. This is brilliantly done, and here are more reasons why I loved it so much.

The different layers of this novel are fascinating and organized in an intricate way that I really enjoyed, even though I admit it could be slightly confusing for readers not used to historical novels using flashbacks:

  1. the layer of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force‘s early  life (1654–1724) . She left her château de Cazeneuve (Gascony, France) at 16 to join the court of King Louis XIV in Versailles
  2. Her time at court, coming in the novel through her memories and day dreaming, and these are very nicely introduced
  3. Her time at the abbey of Gercy en Brie, after King Louis expelled her from court at age 47, because of her love affairs and also her impious writings
  4. Rapunzel as recounted to Charlotte-Rose. The beginning of the tale is set in the 16th century. The main heroine is Margherita, she is prisoner of the witch Selena
  5. Then an earlier layer in time, with Selena’s own early life and the life of own grandparents and mother
  6. Various short excerpts of poems related to Rapunzel are inserted at the beginning of each section

These are listed here in a chronological order, but the beauty and intricacy of the novel is how they are all intertwined. And of course this is highlighted by the multiple parallels Charlotte-Rose discerns between her own life and Margherita’s.

This novel as just as much the retelling of Rapunzel as it is a historical novel. It is so rich with life as it was under the Sun King:

  • Charlotte-Rose was indeed one of many of the king’s mistresses to end up discarded and locked away in a nunnery
  • Louis XIV’s terrible character and inflated ego
  • his numerous mistresses, including Athénaïs, Maintenon, and even Des Oeillets, that you have heard about if you read the book or my review of The Shadow Queen
  • the major issue of battles between Catholics and Protestants, and the horrors of the persecution of the Huguenots, especially after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes
  • the other issue of witchcraft  and fortune-tellers in Paris, also persecuted by the King. There are several passages on La Voisin, see again my review of The Shadow Queen about her
  • La Bastille, just as dreadful as The Tower of London
  • Molière and his theater troupe, so popular and successful at the time
  • before Louis XIV, but here in Margherita’s background: the great art of Italian Renaissance, especially with Tiziano, better known in English as Titian

As for the life in a Benedictine abbey, the author did a great job on the sign language, and there are great scenes for instance when Charlotte receives the habit. A few scenes though earlier in the book, when she entered, were really  shocking, and even though I studied a lot about that milieu, I had seriously never heard of such things.  I think these scenes were totally unnecessary and did little but give a very biased negative view of monastic life. This is my only critic of the book.

During her court life, Charlotte-Rose wrote and published many books about the scandalous secret lives of French nobles. These books are still published and read today.
And it is during her time at the abbey that she rewrote Rapunzel. It was published in 1698 and is one of the first collection of French literary fairy tales.

VERDICT: With a brilliant feat of creativity, Kate Forsyth manages to lead her readers in the world of fairy tales while recreating for them the world of Louis XIV, as a French woman writer of the time experienced it in its glory and horror. Beware, you might want to remain in a locked tower like Rapunzel for the sake of reading this novel undisturbed!


 The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love.

French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens…
After Margherita’s father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.
Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does.
Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman.  [provided by HFVBT]

Praise for Bitter Greens

“Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens is an enthralling concoction of history and magic, an absorbing, richly detailed, and heart-wrenching reimagining of a timeless fairytale.” —Jennifer Chiaverini, New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival

“See how three vividly drawn women cope with injustice, loneliness, fear, longing. See how they survive—or perpetrate—treachery. Surrender yourself to a master storyteller, to delicious detail and spunky heroines. Bitter Greens is a complex, dazzling achievement.” —Susan Vreeland, New York Times bestselling author of Clara and Mr. Tiffany and Girl in Hyacinth Blue

“A magical blend of myth and history, truth and legend, Bitter Greens is one of those rare books that keeps you reading long after the lights have gone out, that carries you effortlessly to another place and time, that makes you weep and laugh and wish you could flip forward to make sure it all ends happily ever after—but for the fact that if you did so, you might miss a line, and no line of this book should be missed.” —Lauren Willig, New York Times bestselling author of The Ashford Affair

“Kate Forsyth wields her pen with all the grace and finesse of a master swordsman. In Bitter Greens she conjures a lyrical fairytale that is by turns breathtaking, inspiring, poetic, and heartbreakingly lovely. Set like a jewel within the events of history, it is pure, peerless enchantment.”—New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn

“Bitter Greens is pure enchantment–gripping and lyrical. From the high convent walls where a 17th century noblewoman is exiled, to a hidden tower which imprisons an innocent girl with very long hair, to the bitter deeds of a beautiful witch who cannot grow old–Kate Forsyth weaves an engrossing, gorgeously written tale of three women in search of love and freedom. A truly original writer, Forsyth has crafted an often terrifying but ultimately redemptive dark fairy tale of the heart.”—Stephanie Cowell, American Book Award-winning author of Claude & Camille

“Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens is not only a magnificent achievement that would make any novelist jealous, it’s one of the most beautiful paeans to the magic of storytelling that I’ve ever read.”—C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen’s Vow and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

“Threads of history and folklore are richly intertwined to form this spellbinding story. Kate Forsyth has excelled herself with Bitter Greens. Compulsively unputtdownable.”—Juliet Marillier, national bestselling author of Flame of Sevenwaters and Heart’s Blood



Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and is now the internationally bestselling & award-winning author of thirty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both adults and children. She was recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite 20 Novelists, and has been called ‘one of the finest writers of this generation. She is also an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers, and has told stories to both children and adults all over the world.
Her most recent book for adults is a historical novel called ‘The Wild Girl’, which tells the true, untold love story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous fairy tales. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, ‘The Wild Girl’ is a story of love, war, heartbreak, and the redemptive power of storytelling, and was named the Most Memorable Love Story of 2013.
She is probably most famous for ‘Bitter Greens’, a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale interwoven with the dramatic life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. ‘Bitter Greens’ has been called ‘the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter’, and has been nominated for a Norma K. Hemming Award, the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Fiction, and a Ditmar Award.
Her most recent book for children is ‘Grumpy Grandpa’, a charming picture book that shows people are not always what they seem.
Since ‘The Witches of Eileanan’ was named a Best First Novel of 1998 by Locus Magazine, Kate has won or been nominated for numerous awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US. She’s also the only author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year, for her Chain of Charms series – beginning with ‘The Gypsy Crown’ – which tells of the adventures of two Romany children in the time of the English Civil War. Book 5 of the series, ‘The Lightning Bolt’, was also a CBCA Notable Book.
Kate’s books have been published in 14 countries around the world, including the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Japan, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Poland and Slovenia. She is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairytale retellings at the University of Technology, having already completed a BA in Literature and a MA in Creative Writing.
Kate is a direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia, ‘A Mother’s Offering to her Children’. She lives by the sea in Sydney, Australia, with her husband, three children, and many thousands of books.
For more information please visit Kate Forsyth’s website and blog.
You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.







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22 thoughts on “Book review and giveaway: Bitter Greens – I love France #113

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