cover image The Wise Woman

The Wise Woman

Philippa Gregory. Pocket Books, $22 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-79274-9

The author of the Wideacre trilogy offers another intense, absorbing tale, a grisly drama of passion and witchcraft in 16th-century England. Growing up as an ill-used apprentice to Morach, the much-feared wise woman of the moors, Alys finds respite by joining an order of Catholic nuns. When young Lord Hugo and his men burn the abbey to the ground during a drunken rampage, Alys is the only one to escape; she flees back to Morach, consumed with guilt at having abandoned her dying sisters. Summoned to minister to Lord Hugh, Hugo's father, Alys soon finds herself deeply involved in the treachery and intrigue surrounding the old man's attempts to have his son's marriage to the barren Lady Catherine annulled. Attracted to Hugo despite his murderous past, Alys begins to practice witchcraft in earnest to rid him of Catherine and become his wife. Her spells work all too well: Catherine's long-awaited pregnancy ends disastrously, and Hugo comes to love Alys, but in a sickly haze of lust that provides no basis for marriage. Alys soon finds herself so sunk in evil, so removed from God's love, that only a truly shocking gesture can bring about her salvation. Gregory adeptly manipulates hair-raising horror and mounting suspense, brilliantly evoking the period's turbulent atmosphere. Dou ble day Book Club alternate. (Nov.)