THE WISE WOMAN by Philippa Gregory


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 A spite-spitting, direful tale set in the reign of England's Henry VIII--and starring a worthy successor to the terrible Beatrice, the murderous prime mover of Gregory's Wideacre (1987), of the Lacey Trilogy. Here, a fierce young woman, status-climbing, learns poor Anne Boleyn's lesson about the price of ambition: ``Never cross a powerful man.'' Young Alys, dreaming, smells the smoke of the burning abbey, but she runs away, leaving her adored Mother Hildebrand to perish- -and returning to the cold, dirty hut of Morach, the local ``wise woman'' who raised her. Mother Hildebrand had given Alys education, cleanliness, beautiful surroundings--and safety. But Morach, who gave Alys a vocation and a hard dose of truth, declares: ``There's no safety for you or for me...[we] do not accord with the way men want.'' When Alys is taken to the castle to heal old Lord Hugh, however, she's overcome by the lure of riches, the scent of power, and desire--for young Hugh (the one who burnt the nuns to death: abbey-burning was a Tudor sport). Before long, Alys, living comfortably if restlessly at the castle, begs Morach for a bit of magic, and three dolls are fashioned, resembling lords old and young as well as the young Hugh's unpleasant fat wife, Lady Catherine. Even Morach is not able to forecast the horror to come- -though at one point she will save Lady Catherine from drowning in the moat (from a castle outlook, Alys ``started a swarm of toxic bees''). And who could guess that those little dolls were made for walking? Buoyed by eerie successes, Alys betrays those who loved her to terrible deaths--and climbs upward to the inevitable fall. Told with the dark energy of Wideacre, a fem/lib screw-turn or two, messy magic, and a certain mean glee: a chilly period entertainment.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-79274-1
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Pocket
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1993


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