ARC Review: The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne

Author: Mary McMyne
Series: None
Age Category: New Adult/Adult
Publisher: Redhook Books
Publish Date: July 26, 2022
Print Length: 384

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Official Synopsis

This dark, lush, and beautiful reimagining of the story of Rapunzel presents the witch’s perspective in this tale of motherhood, magic, and the stories we pass down to our children.

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 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 reveals a dark world of ancient spells and murderous nobles behind the world Haelewise has always known…

Told from her own perspective, The Book of Gothel is a lush, historical retelling filled with dark magic, crumbling towers, mysterious woods, and evil princes. This is the truth they never wanted you to know, as only a witch might tell it.

My Review

I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

THE BOOK OF GOTHEL is a superbly atmospheric retelling of Rapunzel from the maligned point of view of the witch in the tower of this classic fairy tale. Haelewise, daughter of the midwife Hedda, flees her village after her mother’s death. With nowhere to go, Haelewise seeks the fabled tower of Gothel, guided by a mysterious voice. Once there Haelewise realizes that magic is real, some tall tales are true, and not all princes are charming. But Haelewise’s hopes of apprenticeship to Kunegunde, the wise woman of Gothel, are dashed when tragedy falls. This sets events into motion that ultimately result in Haelewise known to history as the witch who stole Rapunzel.

This retelling undoubtedly tackles themes of overcoming the patriarchy, religious syncretism, the power of women, and motherhood. Given the 12th century Germany time period, it is unsurprising that the patriarchy is systemic in this tale. It is present in typical ways with respect to family dynamics; threatened sexual assault; religion; purity; and the perceived low value of a woman in terms of her opinions, wants, and marriage preferences. In other words, nothing new to see here.

I found the aspect of religious syncretism, or the blending of religious beliefs, very interesting. Although Christianity was already established in Germany during this time, elements of older beliefs break through. I’m not a scholar of pre-Christianity Germanic beliefs, so I likely missed some elements. (Or am wrong entirely?) But I found this theme evident in the stories told to children, icons hidden from sight, and herbalism. And, perhaps the most obvious, was the secret circle of women who keep this ancient knowledge alive.

This charge of secrecy bands women together to form a silent, cohesive unit that works against questionable decisions made by men. It also provides a sisterhood of sorts for these women. But the importance of women supporting women in a man’s world is broader than this clandestine sisterhood. It crosses into the realm of motherhood. This powerful topic explores a woman’s reluctance or desire to be a mother and how that transcends and affects all other choices. (Motherhood also ties in with the religious and patriarchal themes, but I can’t say much more without spoilers!)

Themes aside, I really enjoyed McMyne’s characterization of Haelewise. Many times I found myself empathetic to Haelewise’s situation. Her circumstances frustrated me on her behalf and left me heartbroken many times. However, I was also proud to see Haelewise become more confident in herself and her beliefs. McMyne delivers a bittersweet ending to Haelewise’s quest to protect the innocent that left me full of longing.

I feel that my review doesn’t do this book justice. But I really enjoyed it. And, surprisingly for me, my favorite aspect of it was the theme of motherhood. Overall, I heartily recommend this to fans of historical, moody fantasies. It’s also a great pick for those who appreciate headstrong female protagonists who work to overcome adversity created from societal expectations.

Rating: 4.5
Content warnings: death, [attempted] sexual assault, blood, mention of torture, sex
Reading format: Kindle e-book

For additional thoughts about THE BOOK OF GOTHEL, check out reviews by Before We Go Blog, The Lily Cafe, and Curiosity Killed the Bookworm.

7 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne

  1. Thank you so much for mentioning my blog!

    It’s gorgeous how this book focused on women and womanhood, and it’s even more amazing how it managed to keep to the confines of the times. Certainly made me glad I don’t live back then. I absolutely agree the ending is bittersweet. It broke my heart, but Haelewise was such a strong woman.

    1. You’re very welcome! Definitely agree with you with respect to being glad I don’t live back then. Fairytales have definitely romanticized those eras, that’s for sure; and then we grow up and learn more about the world. Haelewise was a strong woman, indeed.

  2. I love these reimagining/retellings of fairy tales and ancient myths. I’ve always felt they fall very in line with the ancient oral tradition. With an oral storyteller the myth, legend, or fairy tale would change – in ways big and small – depending on their mood, memory, or the audience they have before them and what they’re responding to. So, for me, these modern retellings feel like a logical progression from the ancient oral tradition through which these stories first travelled. And I adore the feminist reimaging of “the witch”! To take this image which has been used for centuries to connect women (especially women with power) to evil and the devil and turn it on it’s head? HECK YES! I’m all in.

    1. That’s a very interesting point that I hadn’t though of before with respect to the progression from ancient oral tradition to modern retellings. Reading all of them has lately made me want to dig backwards and check out the more “original,” or first, versions of the fairy tales. It would be very fascinating to see the differences; I’m sure there are quite a few! The tone of this book almost feels like an age old story told in the original (oral) way. And yes, I am ALL about these feminist reimaginings–I think you’re spot on about turning all of these evil/wicked associations with women upside down.

  3. Beautiful review and I am so SOSO happy you enjoyed it because I have had my eyes on this book since the cover reveal. I am a sucker for all retellings and for gothic atmosphere in storytelling. and this book sounds better than I expected??? ugh gotta place an order!

    1. Thank you so much, Kal! I have overwhelmingly been impressed with the retellings I’ve read. Even the ones with eastern mythology, for which I have no expectations going in because I didn’t grow up with those stories. The atmosphere was definitely one of my favorite aspects of this book; the book cover is a visual representation, in my opinion, of the tone. I sincerely hope you enjoy it!

  4. Hey there,

    thanks to your amazing and wonderful review, I just bought the Kindle edition.

    Even though I should read my ARC, I do want to dive in to these pages now. But I MUST be patient. ?

    Cheerio
    RoXXie

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