Hi everyone! I’ve got another early review for you, this time for The Book of Gothel which is a retelling of Rapunzel, but from the view of Mother Gothel! I’ve never read a retelling of Rapunzel, so this was a fun read for me!
The Book of Gothel
by Mary McMyne
Release date: July 26th 2021
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Everyone knows the tale of Rapunzel in her tower, but do you know the story of the witch who put her there?
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 medieval 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 unlocks a dark world of ancient spells and murderous nobles behind the world Haelewise has always known…
This is the first Rapunzel retelling that I’ve read, and I definitely enjoyed it! It’s set in 12th century Germany but actually starts out in current day, with a researcher being called in to review a recently discovered medieval manuscript. This manuscript turns out to be written by Haelewise, who became known as Mother Gothel. It’s written in such a way that if you removed the magic, it would be 100% believable since it also uses real historical figures as characters, such as Hildegard who becomes Saint Hildegard.
There is a heavy focus on the clash between Christianity and a pagan religion focused on the Mother Goddess, as well as a major focus on what it is to be a woman and what is expected of us.
The main character Haelewise was an interesting character. Because of her physical characteristics (black eyes) and the fainting spells that she suffers from, she is an outcast in her small town and eventually sees her branded as a witch. She eventually seeks refuge at the tower of Gothel and becomes apprenticed to the wise woman who lives there.
Once Frederika shows up at Gothel that’s where the story really started to take off for me, I found Haelewise’s journey to be interesting and I enjoyed trying to figure out how she became the villain of the original story.
I immensely enjoyed the writing, it was beautiful and I definitely would be interested in reading more from this author.
The things I didn’t really like was how there were quite a few parts of Haelewises inner monologue that was very repetitive, and since so much of this story was Haelewise recounting what happened to her there was a lot that was pretty repetitive. The pacing was also a little off for me, at times it would feel like nothing was happening, just pages of Haelewise monologuing.
I do kind of wish that we had gotten more of the circle of women, and maybe a darker version of Haelewise. After all, she goes through so much hardship and long term doesn’t seem to have any sort of negative impact on her, other than her relationship with Matthaus. Even though I would’ve loved if it had gotten darker (I do love my dark fantasy!) I’m satisfied with how everything worked out with this. To me, this was almost like if cottagecore was a medieval fantasy story, and it was great!