BITTER GREENS by Kate Forsyth, Review: Beauty & gravitas

Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens was a Library Journal Best Book of 2014: Historical Fiction.

Bitter Greens Synopsis

Bitter Greens Kate ForsythCharlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from court by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. 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 a handful of greens – parsley, wintercress and rapunzel – from the walled garden of the courtesan, Selena Leonelli, they give up their daughter to save him from having both hands cut off. 

Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1513 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-one years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, growing to womanhood, Margherita sings in the hope someone will hear her. One day, a young man does …

Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic, and the redemptive power of love. 

Genre: Romance, Drama, Action-Adventure, Mystery, Fantasy

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I rarely read the fantasy genre, but the creation of fiction from historical factual seeds is something I find fascinating. In this case, the seed is the mystery surrounding the first authors of the fairytale we now know as Rapunzel.

I am hooked on the complexity and compelling tension of stories told within stories, as Forsyth has done in this novel.

In Bitter Greens Kate Forsyth delivers a tale of beauty, strength and gravity.

Her fierce respect for the art and power of storytelling shines through every page.

While being effortless to read, Forsyth’s prose has a certain grandness and wonder about it. The world she creates in Bitter Greens is vibrant, alluring and evocative.

‘So when is your birthday?’

I told her, and she said, ‘Born under the sign of the lion – most suitable given your hair and your eyes. You should call yourself Selena Leonelli. That’s a name with power.’

Selena Leonelli. It rolled around my mouth like the sweetest of jujubes. I smiled at her, and the unfamiliar movement of muscles around my mouth seemed to tug up my heart from the black pit into which it had fallen. A new name seemed to signal the possibility of a new life.

As glorious and cinematic as this novel is, I must give a warning to the faint-hearted reader – this is very much an adult fairytale. It deals with love, loss, brutality and violence. It is as emotive as it is enthralling.

You do not need to be a fan of the fantasy genre to enjoy this novel. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction will fall in love with Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, a five-star read.

As much as I like reading ebooks these days, this is a title to purchase in hardcopy – it is big and beautiful and has made a lovely addition to my display bookshelf.

BOOK RATING: The Story 5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5

Get your copy of Bitter Greens from:

Bookshop US Amazon Booktopia AU

UPDATE: Kate has since written, and we’ve very much enjoyed, the novels The Wild Girl, The Beast’s GardenBeauty in Thorns and The Blue Rose.

About the Author, Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than twenty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both children and adults. Kate’s books have been published in 14 countries around the world, including the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Japan, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Poland and Slovenia. She is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairytale retellings at the University of Technology, having already completed a BA in Literature and an MA in Creative Writing. Kate is a direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia.

* Receiving this book for free did not impact my ability to express my honest opinions having read the novel.

Book Giveaway

Thanks to Random House Australia I have a paperback copy of BITTER GREENS by Kate Forsyth to giveaway to one lucky reader.

The winner of this giveaway will be selected at random and entries are open internationally. This giveaway will also be promoted on Twitter (@BLBookReviews).

There are ways to increase your chances of winning a copy of this book:

+2 entries, tweet about this giveaway (providing link to this post) or even easier retweet my giveaway announcement

+4 entries, provide a link to this giveaway entry post on your webpage

The lucky winner will be announced on 3rd June 2012.


And the winner is… Jeffrey. Congratulations, enjoy!