It really is no secret that I adore fairytale retellings. I’m always seeking them out, and the recent trend of retellings from the villain’s perspective, like Malice or Little Thieves, has made me very happy. When I discovered The Book of Gothel, I knew it was another book I needed to read. Fortunately, Nazia from Orbit was kind enough to send me an early copy.
The Book of Gothel follows the story of Haelwise, a girl who, on the death of her mother, stumbles upon a hidden tower named Gothel. There she discovers she is magic and befriends a pregnant girl called Rika. This tower is both of their havens until something happens that sets Haelwise off on a journey to reveal secrets people would kill for.
There was so much I loved about this novel, but the most significant thing was the blend of folklore and history. I won’t pretend to know much about medieval Germany, but this book bought it to life for me. This story felt real and fantastical, and that was a perfect blend. The prologue and epilogue made this book feel like the story could have really happened. I know it wasn’t, but I think it was told so well.
The magic system was quite basic, but in one way, that was what helped cement it in our past. The use of fruit to open up their eyes, the magic being quite limited. It’s mostly related to sight through things like animals, scrying and even just seeing souls as they enter the world. I found this so interesting, and I wonder how it does connect to Germanic folklore.
Something else this novel delves into deeply is the power of women versus misogyny. This is Medieval Europe, and in many ways, women were often looked down upon. There was a need to protect them, whether this was secret towers or even just people keeping their mouths shut. Only women appear to have this magic, which grants them this extra level of protection, and the Mother figure wants to protect those she sees as her daughters. There is some discussion of religion with this important goddess figure being connected with a Christian god. Again, this ties in with the blend of folklore and history. I can barely find the words for how brilliant I found all this.
I did mention that this book featured magic, so I just want to briefly dive into that. One of the things I love about fairytales is how dark magic can be. We want to see the power and the pain as that can teach us something. The magic in this book definitely had dark elements. When Haelwise isn’t controlling her magic with the fruit, her eyes are sensitive to the light, and her soul regularly tries to escape her body. The fruit not only brings her magic but helps keep her stable too. The Mother is sometimes thought a demon, mostly due to Christianity, but sometimes she also asks for dark things like murder. It felt like fairytale magic, and that was awesome.
There was some romance in this book too. It was somewhat bittersweet, but I liked it. Matthaus was a good guy. Things were difficult for them, but I liked the little twists at the end that basically make him Rapunzel’s Prince. But not in this story, obviously. I loved those little easter eggs as I read Rapunzel so many times as a kid. Especially as this book is more of a prequel to Rapunzel. The child only pops up near the end and then very briefly. Still, I liked the relationship and the characters we had instead as it made it feel fresh.
I was slightly worried that I would find this book difficult to read. It looked like it could be a little dense or a little too flowery. It wasn’t though. I found this a very easy-to-read story. There was still some beautiful language, but overall it was easy to get through the chapters. I didn’t want to put the book down, even though work meant that I had to.
This is a book that I could honestly lose myself in time and time again. It’s a new favourite that will stun fairytale and fantasy lovers alike. I highly recommend this book and think you should all preorder a copy.
Title: The Book of Gothel
Author: Mary McMyne
Genre: Historical Fantasy/Retelling
Age Range: Adult
Release Date: 28/7/22