This book was a bit up and down for me. I enjoyed the tale set in 1487. I really enjoyed getting to know Artemisia and disliking Abbot Roald.
But I didn't connect with the story set in 2014 so much. Parts of it seemed a bit contrived. I never really bought the issues between Pip and Jack. For a couple that communicated with each other so well, it seemed implausible that they couldn't tell each other what they really wanted; especially when they each appeared to be so clear about what they wanted for themselves. So the trajectory of their relationship didn't resonate with me and I didn't buy their reticence to sit down and nut out what they each wanted. Their break-up seemed pointless and for me was immediately unmasked as a device to get them back together later in the story.
Apart from that, I enjoyed the writing in lots of ways, once I was able to put a few pages between me and the break-up. It would've been interesting to see where the story might have ended up if Pip had been given the opportunity to channel some of Artemisia's strength and happily strike off on her own. I think this was why I found Pip's guilt over Pedro a bit annoying. What I probably liked most about Pip's story was her bonds with the other women in the story, even Valentina. Not a catfight in sight.
But I think Manning handled Artemisia's story really well. The turn this took was unexpected but plausible given the lack of agency that a female cook would have had in 1487. Given how likeable that character was I think Manning was pretty gutsy with this part of the story, and I have to take my hat off to her for not allowing the characters in 2014 to find out in some way what had been her fate. That was completely plausible.
It could have been a really interesting study on the changing lot of women through the ages. This still would have worked with the themes of culinary alchemy, herbal lore, strength and resilience and would've been a nice package to wrap it up in. It sounds like I didn't like this story; I did. My disappointment is probably because the premise intrigued me and I wanted to like it more than I did.