Book Review: The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory

The wise woman #witch #historical
Alys joins a nunnery to escape the poverty of her life on the moor with her foster mother, Morach, the local wise woman with whom she lives as an outcast, but she soon finds herself thrown back into the world when Henry VIII’s wreckers destroy her sanctuary. Summoned to the castle as the old lord’s scribe, she falls obsessively in love with his son Hugo, who is married to Catherine. Driven to desperation by her desire, she summons the most dangerous powers Morach has taught her, but soon the passionate triangle of Alys, Hugo, and Catherine begins to explode, launching them into uncharted sexual waters. The magic Alys has conjured now has a life of its own — a life that is horrifyingly and disastrously out of control.

Is she a witch? Since heresy means the stake, and witchcraft the rope, Alys is in mortal danger, treading a perilous path between her faith and her own female power.

This is not the usual Gregory book dealing with politics surrounding the King and his wives. This time it’s at a lower, baser level – Alys escapes the hovel she’s living in with the local Wise Woman by becoming a nun. When the nunnery is burned down by the local Lord Hugo, she escapes and becomes a scribe to Hugo’s father Hugh. She starts using her skills in an effort to stay within the castle and become Hugo’s lover in place of his wife Catherine.

She becomes more and more desperate, using more dangerous “dark arts”, only to be haunted both by the wax figurines she uses, the old Wise Woman (who drowns as she predicted) and by the Prioress who insists on continuing to practise the now heretical Catholic religion and can bring added danger to Alys

It’s not a book for the easily embarrassed or offended – there’s lots of sex (in explicit detail) and whether the reader believes in witchcraft or not, it details a dangerous time when women even knowing how to read can be a life threatening time

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