Review | The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne

“Blessed is the snow that hides my path. Blessed is the lie that saves a life. Blessed is the woman who helps her kind.” 5/5 stars!

Attention! This book contains: tall towers, a protective circle, memory loss, black curls, tailored dresses, figurines, true love, daggers, witches, fainting spells, golden eyes, midwives, wolf skin, rare fruits, true love and brave young women.

Everyone knows the story of Rapunzel in her tower, but do you know the story of the witch who put her there? Mary McMyne’s spellbinding debut reveals the truth behind the fairy tale—the truth they never wanted you to know, as only a witch might tell it.

“Smart, swift, sure-footed and fleet-winged, The Book of Gothel launches its magic from a most reliable source: the troubled heart. Mary McMyne is a magician.”—Gregory Maguire, NYT bestselling author of Wicked

Germany, 1156. With her strange black eyes and even stranger fainting spells, young Haelewise has never quite fit in. Shunned by her village, her only solace lies in the stories her mother tells of child-stealing witches, of princes in wolf-skins, and of an ancient tower cloaked in mist, where women will find shelter if they are brave enough to seek it.

When her mother dies, Haelewise is left unmoored. With nothing left for her in her village, she sets out to find the legendary tower her mother spoke of—a place called Gothel, where she meets a wise woman willing to take Haelewise under her wing. There, she discovers that magic is found not only in the realm of fairy tales.

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.

“McMyne’s shimmering debut… is a sprawling epic, full of magic, love, and heartbreak. Fans of Circe and The Wolf and the Woodsman will devour this taut, empowering fairy tale.”—Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

I don’t know what it is about retellings, but I just love them with all my heart! Especially when they are about well-known “villains” and their backstory. We all know about Rapunzel’s story and how she was stolen by a witch and kept locked in a tower. But in this book, we get a backstory for the witch who stole her: the infamous Mother Gothel. She was just a “normal” girl who wanted to live her life and who wanted to be with her best friend Matthäus… but she is far from normal. Her village sees her as a witch, and when her mother dies and her father abandons her, she has no choice but to run from the village and seek refuge in the Gothel tower. This is just the gist of it, because there’s a lot going on in this story so if I were to describe everything… we would be here for a while!
I’m very surprised this is a debut novel, because it’s absolutely stunning and well written. Every single element of this book created a beautiful and immersive reading experience. I would describe this book as young adult fantasy, but it definitely matures as the story goes, so keep that in mind if you decide to pick it up. It’s nothing too graphic (in my opinion), but it definitely talks about more serious topics as the book progresses.
There’s a bit of romance in here, but it’s not the main focus of the book. The focus of this book is 100% the main character’s development. It’s a coming-of-age story with a touch of feminism, folklore and paganism.
I was surprised with the way the story ended, regarding Rapunzel. I don’t want to spoil anything with this review, but I was hoping that the end would make a connection to the well-known story of Rapunzel. Still, I was pleased and it was a very satisfying ending!
Fortunately for me, I believe I read this at the perfect time of the year: Fall! This is a very cozy read, and I highly recommend reading it while it’s cold outside. Grab a blanket and a cup of tea/coffee and enjoy this masterpiece! I just love how original, creative and inspiring this story was! If you like retellings, this is definitely a must-read!

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