One of England’s leading producers of historical fiction, Philippa Gregory has long turned her attention to the women of the 16th and 17th centuries—a time when female voices were scarcely heard and their stories rarely told. Women who stood out from the ordinary, arousing jealousy or suspicion, were at risk of being ostracized or even killed. As an elderly lacemaker tells Alinor Reekie, the protagonist of Gregory’s latest book Tidelands (Atria), “It’s never good to be a woman.”
In the treacherous and isolated marshlands of Selsey Island, on England’s southeastern coast, Alinor navigates a liminal space. Her husband has vanished but she is unable to declare herself a widow. Forced to be the sole provider for herself and her two children, she is suspected of being a witch. Her unmatched beauty and skills with herbs create fear in others. Indeed, the first words that we hear spoken to Alinor are: “Are you of this earth or the other world?”
Alinor waits in a moonlit graveyard to see if the ghost of her husband will appear to prove that he has died. Instead she encounters a strange young man named James whose life is in danger. When Alinor shelters James, the dramatic plot is set in motion.
James and Alinor are fiercely attracted to each other, despite their differences in class. Alinor, without any proof, remains legally wed to her missing husband. However, Tidelands ultimately refuses to conform to romantic tropes and unfolds in unexpected ways. Alinor and James’ affair is one of overwhelming passion, but it’s Alinor’s commitment to protecting her children and giving them a better life that truly drives the narrative.
Best known for The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory earned her Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, and her passion for history can be felt behind each word. Tidelands opens in 1648, amidst the English Civil War, and the effects of the raging conflict reverberate throughout the novel. James fights alongside the Royalists loyal to King Charles I and the Catholics now forced to practice the “old faith” in secrecy. Alinor’s friends and family oppose the king and support the uprising of Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell. With the king trapped in exile on the Isle of Wight, merely a few dozen miles off the coast of Selsey, it is only a matter of time before the conflict ripping across the country makes its way to Alinor’s backyard.
As the tides of war shift in their favor, the supporters of Parliament revel in their optimism that ousting the monarch will usher in a more egalitarian era of greater social mobility. But Alinor’s entrapment—mired in poverty, threatened by the suspicions of her superstitious neighbors, and unable to be with the man she loves—feels increasingly dire, and her fate remains impossible to predict until the very end.
Tidelands is now available.
About Philippa Gregory:
PHILIPPA GREGORY is the author of many New York Times bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl, and is a recognized authority on women’s history. Many of her works have been adapted for the screen including The Other Boleyn Girl. Her most recent novel, The Last Tudor, is now in production for a television series. She graduated from the University of Sussex and received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is a Regent. She holds honorary degrees from Teesside University and the University of Sussex. She is a fellow of the Universities of Sussex and Cardiff and was awarded the 2016 Harrogate Festival Award for Contribution to Historical Fiction. She is an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. She founded Gardens for the Gambia, a charity to dig wells in poor rural schools in The Gambia, and has provided nearly 200 wells. She welcomes visitors to her website PhilippaGregory.com.