The Book of Gothel – Mary McMyne

Published By: Orbit
Pages: 400
Released On: 28/07/2022

Haelwise 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, Haelwise is shunned by her village, and her only solace lies in the stories her mother tells of child-stealing witches, of princes in wolfskins, of an ancient tower cloaked in mist, where women will find shelter if they are brave enough to seek it.

Then Hedda dies, and Haelwise 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 Haelwise meets a wise woman willing to take her under her wing.

But Haelwise 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 people will kill to uncover.


Thanks to Orbit for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

I’ll be honest, I’m usually quite critical of rewrites or adaptations of fairytales or classic stories as they never seem to match the standard of the original, but this had me hooked from the very start.

Where Mary really excels is in her description. The first chapter describes a book – which turns out to be very important – but it’s not just described as a book. It is described so wonderfully that I am physically sad that I will never get the chance to see it, to hold it or read it. Yes it’s a fictional book but her words paint such a real, vivid picture. The vivid descriptions don’t stop as the book gets going, even down to the clothes on the characters’ backs or the mud on their cheeks. I thought the food had a very Dickensian quality about it in its writing, you can practically taste it, but it never feels too much and it never slows the story down.

It’s not always obvious that this is even linked to the original Rapunzel story. Yes there’s the odd mention as the book goes on but it could quite easily be a standalone book. I can’t believe anyone doesn’t know the original story but this is so original that it works beautifully on its own. This could be a positive or a negative for some people. I quite like it this way because there’s enough hints to see the inspiration but there’s enough of Mary’s own story telling for it to be one of a kind.

Like I said, I’m not always a fan of adaptations but this is so well done that I would happily read more if Mary was to write them. You can hear the Brothers Grimm in it but Mary lifts it up and it’s hard to tear yourself away.

We all grew up to believe the witch in the story is a villain, a woman who steals a baby and holds her against her will, but this book shows it more as a story of redemption – a with who uses her gifts for good rather than for evil, which is a nice angle.

The plot is exciting but I feel where it really excels is in the character exploration. There’s a lot of characters but none are surplus. They’re all well deposed and explored and crucial to the overall story.

I don’t know much – or anything really – about 12th Century Germany but it all sounds plausible and well researched (even with a fantasy twist). I’d love to look into how the fairy tale is told in the country of its origin.

It is entertaining, fantastical, magical, interesting, cosy, happy, sad, powerful; it can break your heart at the same time as warming it up. It shows just how important family and a community is, even in a fantasy world.

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