The Book of Gothel was described to me as the story behind the witch who put Rapunzel in the tower. And this is right partly. I think the majority of the story is more of an origin story of Haelewise. And while we do get pieces of the Rapunzel story a bit later on, if you go into it thinking that’s the majority of the story, you may be disappointed. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.
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…
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: sexual assault
“Villain” origin stories will always fascinate me. What we think of as the evil character in a story and the ways in which in Rapunzel, most ‘villains’ aren’t given names. They serve as place holders for a force to be overcome by our main character. The Book of Gothel is Haelewise’s story. How she has to mire and navigate through layers of misinformation. When we are alone, we can be so susceptible to influences who don’t have our best interests in heart. To information we think is right about the world, our family, and ourselves.
But couldn’t be much further from the truth. The Book of Gothel deeply explores these themes. The story of Haelewise as she must figure out her own power and relation to the world. So if you’re looking for a story that is mostly origin story and about 10% Rapunzel vibes, then this is for you. That’s just the main warning I have in terms of expectations. Once I was able to pivot, I had a much more enjoyable reading experience. To see how she is made a target for blame. Ostracized and alone, how Haelewise must determine her own truths.
In general, The Book of Gothel is a slow book. Maybe slower than you might expect for a fantasy adventure. But I think that derives from how it’s focused on character, on Haelewise. As a whole, The Book of Gothel explores the intricacies of character and perception. Of asking what we will sacrifice for justice and what we will lose in the process. Overall, The Book of Gothel had me waiting for the other shoe to drop for a while. For when I’d start to recognize pieces of what I knew – but I think most of that is the expectations I had going into the book.
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If a story about what a girl must do to find her way, to wade through what people tell us and what we should do for ourselves, is your thing, still pick it up. I think for me, changing my expectations around 2/3 of the book was just a bit too late to course correct. I think the best approach for The Book of Gothel would be to consider it Haelewise’s story independent from her role in Rapunzel. Find The Book of Gothel on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop.org & The Book Depository.