Book Review – Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory

First published, 2020

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Set in 1670-71, the story follows three sets of characters as they try to forge decent lives for themselves in difficult circumstances.

In London, the ailing Alinor sits above the family’s warehouse, making charms and herbal remedies, while her dutiful daughter, Alys, takes deliveries and manages the accounts for their small business. Alys’s children, Johnnie and Sarah, are living away from home and just finishing their apprenticeships when the story begins.

When a grand and beautiful Italian woman, head to foot in black with a baby in tow, arrives at the London wharf, proclaiming herself the widow of Alinor’s son, Rob, the ladies of the warehouse have no choice but to take Livia in. But is she really what she seems? And why must she lead on one member of the family while pursuing their enemy romantically, all while in mourning and looking fabulous? And is somebody waiting for her back in Italy?

Meanwhile, in New England, Alinor’s brother Ned tries to live between two worlds – as a rebel and fighter against the executed king, his loyalties might be thought to lie with his fellow countrymen who’ve escaped England, vengeance, justice and a new king, in search of their promised land. But Ned wants to live freely, in peace, and learn the ways of the Native Americans, whose languages he’s trying to master, and with whom he collaborates in an attempt to make it through a cruel winter. But a war is coming between the settlers and the natives and soon, Ned will have to pick a side.

An absolute thrill of a book. It’s in no way small, and I read it in two days. I love a book where the main character is sympathetic without being beaten down to dust and this book gave me three of them. I also love a novel where the bad guy isn’t just some boogidy-boogidy creep show, but someone with depth and reasons, and real rot at their core. I like a bit of nuance. I like to be wooed even as I realise it’s all too late for the characters and they’re going to be devastated before long. What you get in Dark Tides is a historical delight and a real taste of life as it must have been three hundred and fifty years ago.

The writing is stunning and authentic, with unexpected twists and moments of humour that I adored, for example, this scene where Ned tries to explain the English to Native American, Wussausmon, also known as John Sassamon:

“‘You took up arms against your own king? And they killed him?’
“‘He was a tyrant,’ Ned tried to explain. ‘In my country, we have an agreement about what a king may do. Even though they are kings, we had a parliament, like the General Court here. But he did not respect them, so we fought him and caught him and then we executed him.’
“‘I have heard of this. Did your friends smash his head? With a club?’
“Ned choked on shock at the picture John conjured up and laughed awkwardly. ‘No, no,’ he said. ‘We beheaded him. With an axe.’
“It still sounded barbaric. Ned wondered that he had never thought of this before. ‘We built a scaffold, outside his palace,’ he said, thinking that everything he said made the execution sound worse. ‘It was a proper trial. Before judges, many judges.’
“John looked incredulous. ‘We’d never kill a king.’ He shook his head disbelieving. ‘You are a most violent people.’
“‘I’m not explaining it well,’ Ned said. ‘Don’t tell people – it’s more complicated than I can say.’
“‘But you crucified your God as well?’
“Ned tried to laugh. ’That wasn’t us! That was years before!’”
p169-170, Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory

I didn’t realise this was the second of a two-part series but I adored it and it works beautifully as a standalone novel.

Must read.