I grew up on fairy tales. As a young child, they were the pretty, dumbed down ones with the happy endings and the lack of gore. As I got older, I read the original, often brutal, versions. I guess my love of fairy tales has chased me. As an adult, I am drawn to fairy tale reimaginings or fantasy with that beautiful fairy tale cadence. So, of course The Book of Gothel called to me.
The Book of Gothel is a reimagining of the story of Rapunzel, told from the point of view of the villain. Known as Haelewise in the story, it starts with her as a young woman in a small village and continues on, the conclusion summing up the fairy tale we all know. If you’re looking for a story that doesn’t stray at all from the original fairy tale, The Book of Gothel is not for you.
Haelewise suffers from fainting spells and sensitivity to light. Of course, these things make her a pariah in her village, where such things are seen as unnatural. A daughter of a midwife, Haelewise is really only tolerated because of her mother’s skill with delivering babies. Then, her mother dies and Haelewise is left running from accusations of witchcraft.
While so much of the story happens in her village, I felt like the book didn’t really begin until Haelewise reaches the Tower of Gothel and begins to learn more about who her mother was and who she herself is. The choices she makes and her resourcefulness are what make her into an intriguing character. I wouldn’t necessarily call her likeable, but she is interesting, which is better.
There were things that I wish had been explored further, with less time being spent on others. For example, Haelewise’s almost-obsession with other women’s newborns was such an interesting aside that I wish it had been more fully explored. I would have loved to know more about her almost savage hunger for a child. I could also have done with less from her sort-of boyfriend, who I really truly hated. He was well-written; he was also a spineless jerk who wanted to have his cake and eat it too (just my personal opinion. I’m not sure that’s the effect the author was going for).
I enjoyed seeing bits and pieces from the original tail sneak through into a new narrative. The storyline was so different that these moments would serve to remind me that I was, in fact, reading a fairy tale reimagining. Otherwise, I would have forgotten completely, caught up in an engrossing and creative coming-of-age story. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what The Book of Gothel is. It is a lyrical, pretty story about a girl learning who she is and the power that she has, not as an evil witch or villain but as a woman.
While not what I expected, The Book of Gothel sucked me in and kept me quickly turning pages. It is mysterious and charming, a novel worth getting lost in.