Tidelands (The Fairmile #1) by Philippa Gregory

Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, England is in the grip of a civil war between renegade king and rebellious parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even the remote tidelands —the marshy landscape of the south coast.

Alinor, a descendant of wisewomen, trapped in poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband. Instead, she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.

Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbors. This is the time of witch mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.

It is dangerous for a woman to be different. 

Trigger Warning: mentions of abortion, mentions of childbirth

England, 1648. It is a dangerous time to be a woman. It is an even more dangerous time to be an intelligent woman.

Alinor is one such woman. A skilled midwife and herbalist, she is determined to make a life for herself and her two children. Not knowing if her husband is alive or dead, she lives in a kind of limbo as neither a widow or a wife. Meeting the mysterious James in a graveyard at midnight only complicates matters. He has taken a liking to the lovely young mother and worse still, she has taken a liking to him.

Author Philippa Gregory is well known for her historical novels. Sweeping stories with a variety of characters from all walks of society. Tidelands is her latest novel, the first in a new series. Different in that the main focus is on the “common” man as opposed to royalty with her other books yet alike in showing that while the way of thinking might change and become more modern, the old ways never truly leave.

The romance between Alinor and James is best described as a slow burn. And it is a very slow burn. Any real action between the two characters doesn’t happen until the second half of the book. With the first half being dedicated to mostly describing Alinor’s life and routine in the tidelands it is easy to understand how some readers were unable to finish the book.

While it is obvious Gregory has once again done a great deal of research in to the time period and lays it out for us the reader, it comes at the expense of character development. Especially in regards to the main character, Alinor. The term “one note character” is often used in reviews and this term can also be used here. It is quite understandable that for a woman in Alinor’s circumstances a smart move would be to keep one’s head down and be unobtrusive. But how many times can a person be expected to turn the other cheek and not show some kind of reaction?

I can understand wanting to keep the peace but surely some kind of emotional reaction would have been felt? A grimace, grit teeth, clenched hands hidden in an apron, something? Sadly, on more than one occasion Alinor simply takes what is dished out to her and says nothing.

The ending of the novel felt very rushed and had an abrupt stop. It is obviously meant as a lead in to the next novel in the series but a little more to the story would have been nice. A better explanation of what happened to the characters between one scene and the next would have been most welcome.

As someone who has read and enjoyed other novels by Philippa Gregory, I felt rather let down by Tidelands. It is one of those books that while I cannot readily recommend it, neither can I tell anyone to firmly stay away. All I can say is try it and make your own decision.

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