Alys doesn't live at the nunnery anymore. She ran when Henry VIII's wreckers came to burn it to the ground- nuns and all. Of course, Alys didn't pause long enough wake anybody else up. She runs all the way back to her foster mother, Morach, a wise woman, hence the title The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory.
Living at the abbey was like living in Beverly Hills compared to the squalor of the hut at the edge of the river. Alys is determined to get herself to another nunnery but before she can hatch a plan the local lord summons her to the castle heal him. Alys uses her skill as a herbalist to cure the old man and catches the eye of Hugo the lord's son. Lo and behold, it's the guy who burned the abbey down and he's hot! Hugo does anything with a pulse, bald and dirty Alys is no exception. Apparently, being rich and good looking makes up for being a rapist, an arsonist and the mass murderer of all your friends because Alys just can't resist him. Well, at first she makes a half assed attempt at it and vows to remain chaste but then he winks at her and she's a puddle of melodramatic goo.
Of course, there's an obstacle (no, not her principles, she dropped them at the first sign of hardship), Lady Catherine, Hugo's wife, and she's not happy that Alys is in the house. It doesn't help that Catherine can't produce an heir. The old lord and Hugo are plotting to get rid of her a la Henry Tudor and wife #1. Things get too hot for Alys when Catherine yells, "Witch!" so she does the sensible thing and casts a spell on Hugo and Catherine using that Old Black Magic and some freaky Action Figures (now with Kung Fu Grip). Things don't really go as planned (Cha!) and creepy boudoir scenes and other horrors ensue.
First things first, Alys has got to be the most self serving heroine I've ever come across. I'm all for bad girl heroines but Alyce makes Scarlett O'Hara look like Mother Superior. She has mad survival skills but she'd toss her Granny under a bus if it would save her skin. One character says to her: "You're a woman of no loyalty, Alys. It's whatever will serve a purpose for you." Hell yeah! Needless to say, I didn't warm up to her. The other characters are equally as awful with one exception. It wasn't a fun time to be alive, especially if you were a woman.
So why did I sit reading this 520 page novel of nastiness? Because of the plot. Gregory wrote this after the Wildacre trilogy and before the Tudor series. She was definitely honing her skills for The Boleyn Girl in The Wise Woman. Just when I thought Alys was doomed she'd panic and whine for a bit then come up with some terrible lie to save her neck. I kept reading just to see what she would do next.
Mostly it was well written, although some of the dialogue was melodramatic and heavy on the exclamation points. Plus, if you have problems with sex and horror then this book is not for you.