The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne

Everyone knows the story of Rapunzel in the tower, but do you know the story of the witch who put her there? Told from her own perspective, The Book of Gothel is a lush, historical retelling filled with dark magic, crumbling towers, mysterious woods, and evil princes. This is the truth they never wanted you to know, as only a witch might tell it.
Haelewise has always lived under the shadow of her mother, Hedda—a woman who will do anything to keep her daughter protected. For with her strange black eyes and even stranger fainting spells, Haelewise is shunned by her village, and her only solace lies in the stories her mother tells of child-stealing witches, of princes in wolf-skins, of an ancient tower cloaked in mist, where women will find shelter if they are brave enough to seek it.
Then, Hedda dies, and Haelewise is left unmoored. With nothing left for her in her village, she sets out to find the legendary tower her mother used to speak of—a place called Gothel, where Haelewise meets a wise woman willing to take her under her wing.
But Haelewise is not the only woman to seek refuge at Gothel. It’s also a haven for a girl named Rika, who carries with her a secret the Church strives to keep hidden. A secret that reveals a dark world of ancient spells and murderous nobles behind the world Haelewise has always known…(Taken from Amazon)

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.

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