Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth

BitterGreensFrom 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.

Published: September 2014 (first pub. March 2012)

Why I Chose It: I received a free copy of the book from a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. I initially entered the giveaway because I really like fairy tale re-tellings and thought this one sounded really interesting!

The Review:

What I found so interesting about this book is that it wasn’t just about Margherita (Rapunzel). It was also about Charlotte-Rose and her story. It was interesting reading about the history of the woman who recorded the modern version of Rapunzel, and the one thing that was very well done was the combination of the two stories.  I found that both characters were well-represented, and although there were more chapters from Charlotte-Rose, I never thought that her character overpowered the story. I felt I was satisfied in both story lines. As a bonus, we also get to hear about the witch Selena Leonelli and hear her version of events. I absolutely loved hearing the story from so many perspectives and I really felt like I was getting a fully rounded story from a well established world.

Margherita is a very strong character, even when she is quite young. I think it really gave the story strength and depth that Margherita was not locked away in the tower right away. We see her as a little girl, then locked away in a convent, and finally locked in the tower. It allowed me to really get a feel for the character before she reaches the tower. Forsyth never gives you the impression that Margherita is lazy or idle. She is always moving, always thinking, and we constantly see her trying to find a way out of the tower and away from the witch, and I really liked Margherita for this.

In Charlotte-Rose’s storyline, I was a little overwhelmed by the court and all of her friends. The court was always busy, and Charlotte-Rose would interact with a lot of people at parties. I did initially like this, because I definitely got the picture that Charlotte-Rose was well-known and well-connected, and I could get a sense of what court life was like. But at the same time, there were a lot of names, a lot of similar sounding names, and I wasn’t always sure whom I should remember and whom I could ignore. It was unfortunately a little overwhelming and I did sometimes glaze over the court parties.


The one aspect of the book I was a little surprised at was the amount of sexual content. I didn’t get the impression from the description that this would be an overly sexualized story, but it is. On some levels this made sense, as Charlotte-Rose had a scandalous life full of many lovers, which the story definitely demonstrates. But I found there was a lot of sexual content. There were also multiple rape scenes, which is a much heavier topic that wasn’t entirely dealt with. For me personally, I think I would have preferred one or two strategically placed scenes to convey the life Charlotte-Rose led, without having to overpopulate the book with sex scenes. I do however realize that’s a highly personal opinion, and that some people may really enjoy the amount of these scenes within the story.

Overall I think this is a really nice adaptation of the Rapunzel story. I enjoyed Charlotte-Rose’s story and how well the two story lines were woven in to each other. Forsyth creates a truly beautiful world, and I enjoyed seeing it from several perspectives. Even though I did not enjoy all of the content, that didn’t stop me from enjoying the lovely world, or the magic fairy tale being told. Due to the content I would recommend this for Adult or New Adult readers, for anyone who loves fairy tale re-tellings, historical novels with a twist of fantasy, or anything to do with witches. :)

Rating: 4 / 5


“Every night, my mother would read to us from one of her many books, my sister and I drawn close to her in an enchanted circle of golden lamplight, the shadows that wavered upon the wall taking the shapes of brave knights and maidens in peril and enchanted beasts. If I could not sleep, my head filled with extraordinary adventures, I would creep down to the library in my nightgown, clutching a candle, which I would light in the embers of the fire. I would curl up in the window seat […] and read further in the book my mother had laid aside.” p 137 [Charlotte-Rose]

“[She] then sat watching the sun set over the lake, singing to herself. Every day, the view was different: sometimes, the lake was placid and blue; sometimes, it lay concealed under mist; sometimes, it was tossed in a tempest; sometimes, it was smeared with flame and gold as if God himself had drawn his fingers across the sky.” p 177 [Margherita]

“The room was roughly whitewashed, but the sun filtered through jasmine so that shadows of tendrils and blossom coiled and uncoiled across the walls. I was able to step through the narrow doorway and, barefoot, stand on the warm soil, breathing in the heady scent of the garden, filling my lungs and veins with the exhilarating power of life and death.” p 205 [Selena Leonelli]


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