The Wise Woman
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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Reading Group Guide
1. Philippa Gregory has created some wicked characters in this book. Who did you see as the ultimate villain? At what times did Alys have your sympathies? Did she ever go so far in her selfishness that she lost your compassion? What about Catherine? Did you ever begin to feel bad for her despite her ill treatment of some of the other women? Did the old lord Hugh or Hugo ever gain your sympathy?
2. Alys tries to find ways to regain safety and stability after the abbey is burned. She tells Morach, "I have no safety without some power." In what ways does she try to gain power once she gets to the castle? Do you think Alys handled her power wisely?
3. Morach tells Alys, "You're a woman of no loyalty, Alys. It's whatever will serve a purpose for you." To what degree do you find this true? Do any of the characters in The Wise Woman show loyalty? At what times does Alys's disloyalty save her? What does she lose by continually acting selfishly?
4. The book takes place during the English Reformation. How do Alys's affiliations with black magic and Catholicism mimic each other? Why do you think both witches and heretics were put to death? What dangers did they present to the Church of England?
5. The book also takes place during the reign of King Henry VIII. "[Hugo] and his father had craved sons, but this reign had taught men the value of pretty women as pawns in the power game." Discuss some of the gender role differences in Lor see more