I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.
Genre: Historical Fantasy Retelling Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 4 stars Series: standalone
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…
Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
THE BOOK OF GOTHEL is a story inspired by the Rupunzel story but has very little actual Rapunzel in it (in a recognisable way.) It’s more a story that asks “why might a woman live in a tower with only a little girl for company?” There’s only a few little details that make it a Rapunzel story, instead mostly being a historical fantasy in 13th century Germany about women with power of all sorts that men are trying to supress.
I really like that. I love historical fantasy and this is a deftly drawn together historical tale about justice and forgotten history and secret female societies. It draws on herblore and folklore, full of women helping one another out, and a heroine determined to help others. She’s not out for revenge, even at her most hurt, she is just looking for justice. And she takes pains to make sure others aren’t hurt by her actions, shielding them as best she can instead.
That was so nice to see in this story. It’s the sort of tale that could so easily be one of consuming revenge that takes a young girl, ostracised for being different, and turns her into a woman of dark, malicious power. And, honestly, that’s the story you’d expect to find on shelves at the moment. But Haelewise never treads down that path. Instead the strength of her kindness and willingness of help shines through. It makes this a hopeful story, one about the value and power of kindness.
The story is bookended by a prologue and epilogue in our time, about an academic finding the manuscript, and I’ll be honest, I did not enjoy those. It felt like trying to take this story that feels like it both exists within our world and within another, and trying to cram that story into our world by excluding the other. It’s just so jarringly different in tone to the main story, and doesn’t feel like it adds anything – no additional insight or layer to the story. It just feels very different and like awkward, badly attached decoration. It didn’t affect my reading experience much – I’m just choosing to pretend it’s not really part of the story (and if/when I re-read this book, I’ll just skip them)