March 15, 2009

The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory: A Review

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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.

10 comments :

  1. Hmmm...I'm not so sure about this one. Thanks for the review though!

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  2. I did really enjoy this but do still have shivers thinking about the birth scene eww.

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  3. When I first read The Queen's Fool I was ready to devour everything by Philippa Gregory, but it didn't take long for me to run out of enthusiasm.

    This is one that I didn't get too. Maybe I will one day, but I don't think it will be soon.

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  4. You're hilarious! I loved the review. In general I like Gregory ut not love her, she has hits and misses as they say. This one... well I don't know what to think about this one since your review was so good. I don't think I'll read it though because I usually hate characters like Alys. I get frustrated with them and with the author for creating them.

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  5. Sounds dreadful. Don't think I'll be picking this one up. And 520 pages? yikes.

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  6. Phillipa Gregory is hit or miss for me too but I think I'll be sitting this one out. Selfish annoying heroines work my nerves, back in the days or yore or contemporary.

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  7. I read a few books by her but then I read a couple that didn't do much for me at all, so needless to say I totally have lost interest in her!

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  8. Really disappointing book. The writer wasted sooo many opportunities to create depth in the characters. Worse, the characters' personalities changed so often, with so little provocaton, that their credibility was destroyed.

    Morach was a very strong characther, however, and had lots and lots of potential to really drive the plot, but no, Gregory kills her off in a completely unbelieveable fashion.

    Alys's personality was not supported by her background. Her ability to be nasty and incredibly scheming didn't make sense in the context of her very humble childhood and years in the nunnery. That she would fall in love with a brutal man who killed all her colleagues is entirely a stretch. Very few people fall in love with mass murderers after the fact....

    I was so disapointed by all the tantalizing possibilities Gregory launched but let drop. This book could have been sooo much richer.

    It was VERY obviously that many of the scenes, particularaly in the last 1/3 or 1/4 of the book, had been recycled and inserted with little thought - or editing. The last page is an absolute capitulation; the writer is obviously tired of the story and takes the easy route out to close the story. She wastes all her early foreshadowing.

    Had this writer kept notes on her characters and notes on the various directions the book was going, she could have had a great story.

    Also, the endless repetition of scenes and explanations and overtly described (and frankly unnecessary to the story) sex scenes make this a great book to read for those who want to know how NOT to do it.

    For those who want to read stories with very excellent character- and story-development, The Outlander Series - Dianna Gabaldon.

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  9. Thanks for the great review. I couldn't quite figure Alys out at all. I finally came to the conclusion that she was just evil, but the end contradicts that. I found the wax figure element tolerable at first, then it just went on a weird tangent. I was somewhat entertained for the first half of the book, then it just went off the rails a bit.

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