Monday 8 August 2022

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Review: The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne (#Ad)

The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne held up by a white hand in front of rainbow shelves.

I was sent this proof for free by Orbit Books for the purposes of providing an honest review.

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The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne

Published: 28th July 2022 | Publisher: Orbit Books | Source: Publisher
Mary McMyne’s Website

Everyone knows the story of Rapunzel in the tower, but do you know the tale of the witch who put her there?

Enter a world of dark magic, mysterious woods and evil princes. This is the truth they never wanted you to know, as only a witch might tell it.

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.

But when her mother dies, Haelewise is left unmoored. With nothing left for her in her village, she sets out to find the tower of legend-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.

The Book of Gothel is a lush, enchanting retelling of the tale of Rapunzel from the witch's perspective, perfect for fans of Circe and The Bear and the Nightingale.
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I'd been super excited to read The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne ever since I first heard of it. An historical fantasy prequel retelling of the story of Rapunzel from the perspective of the witch, it was right up my street. However, I finished it feeling really disappointed.

Set in Medieval Germany, the story follows Haelewise, a young girl who has fainting spells, brought up by a mother who secretly keeps to the old ways. I was expecting either a villain origin story, or for a story that completely turns the tale of Rapunzel on it's head. And while to some degree it does do that, the story actually has very little to do with Rapunzel, or what we know of that story. There's a tower, there's a woman who practices magic, and there's a baby girl named Rapunzel in the last fifth of the book, but that's it. I did start off enjoying the book. I loved the Medieval setting, the feminist aspect to how women are viewed, and the patriarchal and controlling church. The old ways, magic from nature, wise women and wort cunning, and goddess worship. It felt like a story that was going to be everything I could want. But it wasn't.

The Book of Gothel is an extremely slow story. Haelewise moves from place to place, and each time you think that's when the story will finally get going, but you just get quite a lot of nothing really happening. She spends time at the tower learning very little from the wise woman in the tower, to seeking assistance from Hildegard, to time amongst royals, to the anticlimactic ending. At each place, there's a lot of not doing very much, and a lot of waiting around. It really dragged, and I lost interest. There wasn't a great deal of magic or action, and the only reason I kept reading was to see how it would relate to Rapunzel, but there's so little. Honestly, you could read this book not knowing it was a retelling. The whole Rapunzel aspect could have been removed. The tower could have been a cottage, the child could have been named something else, they're pretty much the only links to the original story, and as such "a Rapunzel retelling" is actually pretty misleading.

I really don't have any more to say. I think there are certain Christian people who might find aspects of this story somewhat controversial, unrelated to the patriarchal and superstitious aspects. I'm an atheist, and I gasped, because it's so bold. It actually made me cackle, the idea of how overzealous Christians might react to it. Also, I only found out after finishing the story that it features an actual historical figure in Hildegard on Bingen, but I don't think it matters either way, it doesn't really make a difference to the story.

I was extremely disappointed with The Book of Gothel due to being very slow, not much happening, and very little relation to Rapunzel. But maybe if you're a fan of historical fiction, and don't mind slow burn stories, this might be something you'd enjoy.

Thank you to Orbit Books for the proof.

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