A huge fan of Gregory’s work, I was so excited to see that not only had she written a book in the third person, but had moved away from her wonderful fictive histories of various British royals to focus on an “ordinary” woman and her family. Only, the beautiful Alinor is anything but ordinary, as a young priest deposited on the shores of anti-Catholic England in 1648, just when the country is in the midst of Civil War and the King imprisoned, and who is tasked with an important mission, realises the moment he encounters her.
Alinor is a wise-woman, a healer who acts as a midwife for her local community and is entrusted with their health and well-being. The mother of two children, her bully of a husband is believed lost at sea. Not quite a widow and not quite married, when she finds the priest, James, and leads him out of the marshes and to safety, she knows something momentous and dangerous has been set in motion.
As the weeks go by and rebellion grows even while the tidal community go on with their daily grind, James and Alinor’s secret bond grows. But these are hazardous times to be a Catholic, a monarchist but, above all, it’s a perilous time to be a wise-woman, especially a beautiful one.
This book is a slow burn. Gregory takes great delight in presenting the reader with the minutiae of Alinor’s life as well as that of other villagers. I really enjoyed the initial slow-pace, the context against which the wider political and social turmoil receded into the background. The writing is mostly lovely and it’s very easy to imagine Alinor and the rest of those who dwell in the liminal spaces between land and sea. Where I struggled a bit was with how repetitive some of the dialogue became. Characters kept repeating themselves, sometimes over and over – to each other and even with their thoughts. I found this a little distracting and even skimmed a bit when this occurred.
Overall, this is a good read with an ending that segues nicely into the next book in what promises to be a series worth following.