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…
Hi and welcome to my review of The Book of Gothel!
As a kid I was fond of fairy tales. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of my mum and grandfather reading them to me and I knew a bunch of fairy tales by heart before I could even read or write. Fast-forward to thirty-something years later and I still have a weakness for fairy tales, in particular for fairy tale retellings and reimaginings. In other words: as soon as I spotted The Book of Gothel and its simple yet alluring cover I just knew I had to read it.
The Book of Gothel is an origin story posing those questions that have become quite popular in recent years: what if the infamous villain we all love to hate was just a simple girl trying to live her life and be happy, what if the story we were all told, the one we all know, was not what actually happened?
The Book of Gothel takes its time setting the scene and allowing its reader to get acquainted with its protagonist. I wouldn’t call it action-packed but this is the kind of story that gets away with burning slowly, demands it even. I appreciated the world-building and the many references to other fairy tales and folklore.
There is a feminist angle to the story, a we-girls-gotta-stick-together kind of vibe, with the tower of Gothel being a sort of safehouse when it needs to be. With talk of a coven of sorts, spells and herbal potions and magic, there is definitely also a witchy vibe. And there is also a religious aspect in play. All those different story elements might seem a lot but they form a coherent whole that was a pleasure to read.
The Book of Gothel is a very rich and imaginative take on the origin story of the witch who (allegedly!) locked Rapunzel in the tower. I had a great time with it and I would happily recommend it to fans of fairy tale retellings and/or readers who enjoy historical fantasy.
The Book of Gothel is out on 28 July.
Many thanks to Orbit and NetGalley for the eARC. All opinions are my own.