Tidelands

Written by Philippa Gregory
Review by Meg Wiviott

Danger fills England in 1648. King Charles I has been dethroned and is held captive by followers of Oliver Cromwell. Puritan Christians scour the country searching for anyone suspected of following the “old faith,” supporting the monarchy, or generally stepping outside their narrow definition of social norms. Living in the remote marshy landscape of the south coast, Alinor is a healer and midwife, a descendant of wisewomen. Trapped in poverty and superstition, she treads the ever-changing tidelands of her community with care, mindful that gossip regarding her work as a healer or the disappearance of her abusive husband, or a misstep in the marshes, could bring disaster. On midsummer’s eve, she helps James, a young man with dangerous secrets, traverse the marsh. Alinor’s simple kindness brings consequences—some good, some bad, some life-threatening.

The inaugural book of the new Fairmile series, Tidelands is filled with details of small Sealsea Island, its economy, social structure, and political divides. While these details set the reader in the story, they occasionally bog down the action. Tension grows in the latter half of the book as Alinor makes a few missteps and small-minded, jealous neighbors question any good fortune which falls upon her. As with any well-crafted series, the book ends with a satisfying conclusion yet provides plenty of space into which new characters may step.