Thursday, September 18, 2014

ARC Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Title: Bitter Greens
Author: Kate Forsyth
Read: June 2014
Published: September 23, 2014 by St. Martin's Press
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Synopsis: The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love.

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.

*** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher at BEA in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not affected my opinion ***

You may remember from posts here on the blog, twitter, or YouTube that I have wanted to read this book for a few years. I learned about it when I started watching BookTube videos more seriously and it was a book that sounded fantastic to me. However it wasn't published in the US at the time so I had to wait. Then imagine my surprise when I picked up a copy at BEA, my glorious glorious surprise (there's a whole story if you watch my BEA Book Haul video). I read it almost instantly as part of my retellings month in June but as it is a September release I had to wait until not to review it.

But the wait it over, it's time to I review Bitter Greens and officially gush to the world. You've probablt been waiting for this moment in the hopes that I will stop talking about how much I loved this book (doubtful). Or maybe you are curious as to why I won't stop beating a dead horse about this one. I've been waiting because I've wanted to gush about this book since I read it. And let me tell you friends, this book was worth the wait! It reads like Historical Fiction but it is a dark and gritty retelling of the story of Rapunzel with memorable characters, an intricate and engaging plot, and a brilliant world. I easily lost myself in the 500 pages of Bitter Greens and months later it still remains as my favorite book of the year.

As a fan of Historical Fiction I was blown away at the incredibly interesting and well-researched world that Kate Forsyth created in this novel. The book took place over the course of 200 years in Western Europe and we get to visit the French court of King Louis the XIV, Provence, and even Venice during the Renaissance. It was easy to connect with the characters and immerse yourself in these settings. For those not a fan of the genre, the references were obscure and subtle enough where you won't get overwhelmed in the specifics but History fanatics like me will have some OMG moments while reading. What Forsyth was able to do with the historical setting was establish the scene and a frame of reference that she then brilliantly expanded on with fantasy elements and mystery. The book had just a hint of magic and just enough intrigue to keep me reading till the end. The world was so engrossing that at times I would forget what was real and what was fiction, forcing me into a brutal awakening back into my reality that I had forgotten while reading.

Part of what was so wonderful and different for me is that the book was that it is told from the perspective of three different women, all of whom have compelling stories that you can't help but empathize with. Generally in books like this I have a favorite character or narrator but in Bitter Greens they were all fantastic. Even when a section ended in a cliffhanger and I angrily wished I didn't have to leave that character behind, I would be instantly drawn back into the other character's perspective. But this may be because with each character Kate Forsyth was able to make you empathize with them and their struggle. In one section I would completely despise the evil witch character and then I would read her side of the story and instead feel connected to her and why she was doing such "evil" things. If you have read my most recent reviews of the Throne of Glass series you know that often this frustrated me. But in the case of Bitter Greens it actually made the story better giving the book a more well-rounded and complex.

Plus Kate Forsyth is a master storyteller who has woven a complex and intricate plot together beautifully. The basis for the book is the all too familiar Rapunzel fairy tale which Forsyth grounds in history. Then she elaborates on the tale with the witch's story that includes a touch of magic. And then we get the story of the woman who wrote the story of Rapunzel who is more of your stereotypical strong female characters. They seem like three seemingly separate stories but Kate Forsyth makes them all engaging and interesting. The book perfectly blends history, mystery, romance, and fantasy. Throughout the book I felt the most unexpected feelings. I laughed, I cried, and I swooned. And while each of these plot points had their own day in the spotlight the real magic came when they overlapped and intertwined. The ending caught me completely by surprise in the way everything comes full circle and had dare I say, a happy ending!

But be warned, this book is not for the faint of heart. Bitter Green is dark, tawdry, and complex. There was more than one scene that made me cringe with it's honesty and brutality. But for me that added to my enjoyment of the book. It was a raw and visceral reading experience. This experience was made even more enjoyable was Kate Forsyth's writing-style. The prose in Bitter Greens was just gorgeous and haunting with a poetic style. It reminded me a little bit of Margaret Atwood's writing in The Handmaid's Tale in that the beauty of the words contrasts with the brutality of the plot points to create a tone of nervousness and unease for the reader.

I give Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth a 10 out of 10

In general, this book is a masterpiece. It brilliantly weaves the story of three compelling women together into a dark and haunting retelling. It reads like a fantastic piece of Historical Fiction with moments of fantasy and romance that will engage readers of all different genres. I cannot sing this books praises enough. It is not the first time I have mentioned it and it certainly is not the last!

Have you read Bitter Greens? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Reading.


  1. I am so thrilled for this book. I am stalking the tour they have going on now hoping to win a copy but it might just get purchased since I'm impatient. So glad to see u enjoyed it.

    1. Ps I freakin am so Team Sansa!!
      📚❤ Brittany Todd
      Please Feed the Bookworm

  2. I love Historical fiction and even though it is a Rapunzel retelling, love how it's all merged with one another and sounds like it was done really well too, so yay! I'm not sure on the 3 different perspectives (it has to really get me into it straight away for that, otherwise It kind of pulls me out of the story a bit.) BUT YAY, so glad it lived up to your expectations (and more!), would've been disappointed if it disappointed you. :)