55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2005
I have read other Phillipa Gregory novels and really enjoyed them, especially The Other Boleyn Girl and The Queen's Fool. Sadly this book was a real let down. The historical detail is interesting but the characters are dislikable and behave in a bizarre fashion most of the time. The main character, Alys and the male lead Hugo, frankly deserve each other as they are self obsessed and self destructive. The book is full of explicit sex scenes far more so than the other novels by this author which I have read. I was not shocked by this but felt they added little to the narrative and proved a poor compensation for unadequate character development.
I do like the work of Phillipa Gregory but would not recommend this particular novel. If you want a good story read The Other Boleyn Girl, The Respectable Trade or The Queen's Fool and give this one a miss.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 19 December 2006
I have read many of Philippa Gregorys book, but they have all been historical novels, so i looked forward to reading this one as it isn't. I thought the book was great and didnt want to put it down. You start off feeling sorry for Alys, but i have to say by the middle I thought she was very conniving. The ending is quite abrupt, but i actually liked it, as Alys let her true feelings come out. I have only just read all the other reviews and am surprised that it has so many bad ones. It is not like 'The Other Boleyn Girl' or 'The Queens Fool', but not all her books can be like that. And I thought introducing the white magic/herbalism was great as they did do that then. I think the wax dolls and sexual encounters were just tricks of the mind and herb Alys used. I would recommend this book to people but dont expect a historical novel, as it isn't one. I loved it.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 16 September 2004
I was looking forward to getting 'lost' in this book, as I had with "The Other Bolyen Girl" and "The Queen's Fool", both of which I could barely put down once started. With this book, I found myself challenged to get through a chapter each night. I really didn't care much about any of the characters, and because the action is all set in the castle, it felt claustrophobic. Unlike her other Tudor novels, I didn't feel that Gregory painted a convincing picture of everyday life in the reign of Henry VIII. The book is certainly 'different', but rather dull.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 June 2012
-This Review contains some spoilers-
The Wise Woman is a strange read (not in a good way)which starts off with the potential to be a brilliant story but somehow gets lost along the way.
My first problem with the book is the main character, Alys. She is not a particularly likeable character - in fact non of the characters in the book are. Alys is somewhat selfish and cruel, this in itself does not make the book bad, what makes this book bad is that after forcing myself towards the end of the book,I did not care what was going to happen to her.
Most of the characters, including Thomas, the old wise woman, her mother the nun all attempt to sacrifice a great deal for Alys - for reasons unknown to the reader. Even Catherine her potential love rival becomes fond of her. It is perhaps significant that the one man she wishes to love her, Hugo, is ridiculously fickle in his affections towards her and other women. He is another character who is unlikeable, whilst drunk Hugo burned the monastery in which Alys had lived killing all her sisters. Alys never even considers that he is the man who turned her world upside-down, she just falls stupidly in love with him because his face changed when he smiled? its just all a little unbelievable.
The end of the book is particularly disappointing, it is unexpected, and occurs very fast. After spending several hundred pages reading about Alys her last action seemed significantly out of character and unbelievable.
After building the book up with the threat of the return of the wax dolls, in addition to Hugo's impending marriage many questioned are left unanswered.The addition of the wax dolls to the story seem unneeded, I was expecting something much more extravagant to occur with them. Presumably, as Alys died and the wax dolls will have died with her, meaning that Hugo would not go blind, deaf or loose his fingers. However, that would also mean that Hugo's father would die, as Alys spelled his doll to make him strong and stay alive. This would mean that within the space of 2 days Hugo's wife, mistress and unborn child will have died, potentially ruining his marriage prospects with his betrothed?
The book gave the impression that Alys' vision of her married to Hugo with a son in the cradle, was the direction which the book was originally intended to go but that the author suddenly decided to take a different path. It also feels as if the book jumps as the old wise woman is suddenly moved to the castle her mother the nun is suddenly alive - WITH NO EXPLANATION AS TO HOW SHE ESCAPED !
I also expected some minor explanation as to who abandoned her on the old wise woman's doorstep? the village must have had some rumour as to who was pregnant. Perhaps Alys was created in a spell cast by the old wise woman? It is assumed that she possesses strong powers - even though she stated in the book that she did not have the power to make the wax dolls as strong as Alys had - yet when chased to her death she turns into a hare.
A very strange read, I would not recommend this book to anyone except to someone who wished to compare how Philippa Gregory later developed her writing skills!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 19 September 2008
I was majorly dissapointed when I finished reading this book earlier on this afternoon. The story has the promise of being extremely exciting and the ending highly anticipated. When you come towards the end of the book you realise that a lot of loose ends will not be concluded despite the 600+ pages and the story doesn't seem to be coming towards a climax with 10 pages to go. This book had the makings of a book I wouldn't put down but sadly I wish I hadn't picked it up.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 15 March 2009
"The Wise Woman" is a far cry from some of Philippa's other, first rate historical novels, but indeed can hold one's interest. I found myself eager for the next chapter to see what Alys' turning point or fate would become. Unfortunately, there was no resolution - and Alys is not a 'wise woman' by any standard.
Whether this was intentional or not, the book's over-riding theme was how a desire for power, with ample doses of envy and avarice, leads to overwhelming hatred. Alys is a sympathetic figure at first - a teenager, used to the life of an abbey where she was safe, contented, and under the wise guidance of a superior whom we shall see is highly learned, loving, and of impeccable ideals. One can see Alys' fear and confusion, in an era where the life for which she was bred has become treason. Mordach, the 'wise woman' whose path is very different from that of the abbess, yet who is compassionate, dedicated, and loving in her own way, has been the closest equivalent Alys had to a mother before she entered the abbey - and one can equally sympathise (at first) with Alys' repugnance at returning to Mordach's cottage in desperation, though she initially intends to keep her vows and return to monastic life.
However, sympathy for Alys cannot last long. Without providing spoilers, I shall comment that her scheming, overwhelming jealousy, and eventual evil which rejoices in others' grave misfortune (even murder) seems demonic as the plot progresses.
There are many sexual references - degrading and manipulative rather than in any way romantic or affectionate. The only two characters who are indeed wise, poles apart though their approaches are, remain Mother Hildebrande and Mordach, and Alys is the cause of their destruction. Every other character is a power hungry, deceitful sort, and there is no sense of any humanity in most. Though there are references to the Tudor era which are basically valid, the changes in religious approaches actually have little to do with the novel's action, save by indirect reference. Indeed, Alys initially is a nun who is exiled because of an attack on her monastery - but the attacker is so scheming and wicked in himself, and her downfall so totally evil, that Henry VIII seems nearly amiable by contrast. The few historical references are forced. Indeed, the clergyman who sends both witches and heretics to their deaths is one of few sympathetic characters, with the slightest integrity, in the entire novel.
Though this is not a 'fantasy novel,' there are several outcomes of witchcraft which Alys practises which are utterly ridiculous (and which figure hugely in the plot development.) Since the rest of the book's content is presented as natural happenings, the entire 'wax doll' theme is so utterly fantastic as to be more laughable than ominous. Alys goes from understandable to wicked to both evil and mad - and the reader will discover that the symbolism of wax candles becomes so bizarre and dominant that it in no way fits in with the otherwise credible, if upsetting, plot.
It is an enjoyable book if one is looking for a few hours' entertainment, and it vaguely captures elements of the period. Nonetheless, readers will be highly disappointed if they expect anything like what Philippa produced in some later novels of the period.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 12 March 2003
set in a time of poltical unrest, it is diffecult to pick up any inaccuracies from a plot that does not immdeiately involve famous people like in her book 'The Other Boleyn Girl'.
it is both unlifting and sad as you see the main character Alys fall deeper and deeper into sin when faced with the real world with corruption and desire everywhere.
Gregory paints a wonderful atmosphere of life in the early Tudor peroid with the focus on one small region efected by the sudden changes that came with Henry VIII.
the reader follows Alys from her running from the nunnery to having to set up herself in the hotbed that is a nobel's court life. As she falls deeper and deeper into sin through witchcraft and desire, there is the nagging thought of what she would do next and whether she will ever truely redeem herself.
the mentions of witchcraft are dubious in this age where the craft is not believed in but help to carry the story on in a brilliant way.
not only are the characters realistic and wonderfully portrayed. adn the little details add to making you feel like you area actually there, in the place so far away from Henry, but so adversly afected by it.
a brilliant and utterly thoughtful piece that keeps you reading, and warms the fibres of your body.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2004
Having utterly adored The Other Boleyn Girl, I was very much looking forward to this and wasn't disappointed. The plot was totally absorbing, the characters well drawn and I found it interesting that our "heroine" became less and less likeable and more mired in sin, desire and greed as the book went along. Such a refreshing change from authors who are afraid to make their main characters unsympathetic. In contrast to the other reviewers, I didnt feel that her fall from grace was totally the fault of the situation that Alys found herself in (the castle and its inhabitants etc) as she quite clearly had her eye on the main chance from an early age when, without a second thought, she ditched her loved ones for the relative comfort and luxury of the nunnery.
However, I was a little bit disappointed by the ending. Having built everything up so superbly well, it felt rushed, ill thought out and left a couple of the most interesting plot devices unresolved (specifically the return of Morach for a reckoning with Alys and those terrifyingly sinister wax dolls).
All in all, fantastic and absorbing but with a slightly disappointing ending.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 14 November 2005
I adore Philippa Gregory and have not yet read a novel of hers that I dislike. As a student of history and archaeology, I found some of the inaccuracies her historical works that feature well documented characters to be distracting, but so good was the story that I was generally willing to suspend my disbelief in favour of simply enjoying a good book.
'The Wise Woman' does not feature so strongly famous (or infamous) historical characters. As a result of this, I found the book easier to read; I was less distracted by twisted facts.
The character of Alys is one who is fickle and unpredictable, but in a way that (in my opinion) makes the book all that more enjoyable - you are unable to stop even to sip your tea because you must use your hands to turn pages rather than drink.
However, I would not consider the book a light or easy read. This is not because the plot is complicated or the language terribly dense, but more because the subject matter being dealt with is quite disturbing at times. There are explicit, somewhat disquieting sex scenes and witchcraft/magic frequently features, in dark ways. I found some images staying with me long after I turned the final page. Fortunately, I find such darkness and complexities of character rather intriguing, so this was not an issue for me.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in such fiction.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 22 June 2009
This is the first Philippa Gregory novel I've read, and although I wouldn't class it as a great novel, it hasn't put me off the author and I shall read her other books. I agree with many of the less favaourable reviews here, in that some of the witchcraft content - particularly the wax dolls - verge on the completely ridiculous, and I do think that this element of the plot could have been written with more subtlety, which I think would have made it darker and more suspenseful. I too was disappointed by the ending, which was abrupt, and seemed totally out of character for Alys considering how she had changed during her time at the castle. What kept me reading, though, and what has made me give this book 4 stars, is the disturbing attitudes towards women that were presented, and how these influenced Alys and contributed to her downward spiral. The notion that some women are fit to be a 'lady' and others can only be regarded as 'whores' is something that sadly lingers to this very day. I could understand how Alys who, as an innocent but skillful 16 year old, saw herself as being as good as anyone else, might feel betrayed, and ultimately be corrupted, by the prevailing belief that she was a whore to be used in any way, and at just about any man's whim. I found myself thinking about this aspect of the book long after I had finished reading, and it bothered me far more than the sex.