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The wise woman
2008
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Summary
#1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory weaves an unforgettable tale of a young woman's sorcery and desire in Henry VIII's England, where magic, lust, and power are forever intertwined.

Growing up as an abandoned outcast on the moors, young Alys' only company is her cruel foster mother, Morach, the local wise woman who is whispered to practice the dark arts. Alys joins a nunnery to escape the poverty and loneliness she has felt all her life, but all too soon her sanctuary is destroyed. King Henry VIII's followers burn the holy place to the ground, and Alys only just manages to escape with her life, haunted by the screams of her sisters as they burned to death.

She finds work in a castle not far from where she grew up as an old lord's scribe, where she falls obsessively in love with his son Hugo. But Hugo is already married to a proud woman named Catherine. Driven to desperation by her desire, she summons the most dangerous powers Morach taught her, but quickly the passionate triangle of Alys, Hugo, and Catherine begins to explode, launching them into uncharted sexual waters. The magic Alys has conjured now has a life of its own--a life that is horrifyingly and disastrously out of control.

Is she a witch? Since heresy means the stake, and witchcraft the rope, Alys is in mortal danger, treading a perilous path between her faith and her own power.
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Booklist Review
Two novels of abandoned young girls in England, but set 300 years apart; both girls struggle for release from the poverty that shackles them and the sexism that tries to define them as property. The rag nymph is Millie Forester, a waif whose mother commits suicide when arrested for prostitution. Millie is taken in by Aggie, a ragpicker in mid-nineteenth-century London. Aggie believes that Millie's incredible beauty makes her a ready target for the slimy types who abduct poor girls into brothels, so she sends Millie to a convent. Such security is short-lived since Millie has a comfortable sense of self and rejects the would-be molding of an overly strict nun. But Millie has learned to cook and eventually sets up a profitable restaurant for poor factory workers. Still, gainful employment does not save Millie from Aggie's worst fears. Some unusual plotting and sharp dramatizations of neighborhoods in London boost the novelty and entertainment factor of Cookson's latest.Gregory's wise woman is Alys, and her wisdom involves healing skills and the black arts, which she learned from Morach, a healer and witch. In sixteenth-century England, however, the practice of witchcraft can prove fatal. Alys escapes to a convent, hoping that this grand and comfortable place of learning will be her home forever. The local lord, using Henry VIII's proclamations as his excuse, burns and plunders the convent--sending Alys back to Morach. Later, when Alys is fetched to heal the lord's ailing father, her life is redefined once more. Gregory's description of Alys' descent into the black arts doesn't quite ring true, but it's scary and shocking, sure to captivate Gregory's many fans. ~--Denise Perry Donavin
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