By Mary McMyne
Published July 2022
The book is marketed as being a retelling of Rapunzel, but told from the witch’s point of view. I love a good villain narrator and it’s October – witchlit month! But really, this isn’t a retelling, it’s a prequel.
The novel follows Haelewise, daughter of the midwife Hedda, through her tumultuous childhood and into her early adulthood. She’s born with a fainting condition and oddly black eyes, which lead the townspeople to label her demon possessed. Disappointed in love and left alone after her mother’s death, she goes in search of the wise woman at Gothel, to train to be her apprentice.
Through a series of misadventures with the princess Rika who also seeks sanctuary at Gothel, Haelewise goes on a journey of discovery, about herself, her beliefs, and the role of the Goddess that the Church is intent on covering up.
The novel starts and ends with a modern-day researcher finding the manuscript that tells the story of how Haelewise becomes Mother Gothel in the Rapunzel fairytale. It also ends on an epilogue that somehow tries to tie the modern day into the legend. Honestly, I think both could have been left out since they didn’t add anything to the story.
Now, what I loved about this book. I really, really liked the divinity of the Goddess and how a small group of Pagan women kept her alive, despite threats of being branded a heretic by the church. From the Empress to commoners, there was a secret circle bound together to worship her, work her magick, and hold her secrets. That part of the story was handled sympathetically and really well done – probably the best aspect of the story for me. Unfortunately, the rest of the book left me flat.
Haelewise spent most of the book being confused, or conflicted, or just bulldozing her way through to get what she wanted, regardless of what was going on around her. She never seemed to give any thought to what anyone else might have been going through, or trying to do for her, if it didn’t suit her agenda. I don’t think there was enough attention given to her training, it all seemed to come too easily for her, since she didn’t understand anything happening to her until someone took the time to explain. Then she used that knowledge and left her mentor behind at the earliest opportunity. And since I was told how she felt through the entire book, I never connected with her on an emotional level.
This was a wonderful story of magic and how the old religion was maintained, at least in the 12th century. But with the slow pacing and lack of depth to most of the characters, I found it slow going.
This one was a bit of a disappointment, but there’s still more witchlit left in the month!
3.25 stars ⭐⭐⭐+
Until next time, thank you for visiting.