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 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…
I don’t really have favorite fairytales but if there’s one I can say I really enjoyed, it has to be Rapunzel. So when I saw that this book was to be a retelling of the story from the witch’s perspective, I was immediately intrigued. And I’m glad that it lived up to the expectations.
I don’t wanna give it away but the narrative device used to tell the witch’s story was something that took me by surprise and I have to say I really enjoyed it. And the writing itself is so captivating. It’s got complete fairytale vibes, but a bit on the darker side and it’s pretty fast paced, so I just wanted to keep going once I started. The descriptions are also very evocative and I could totally feel the mysterious and otherworldly nature of everything. I also liked the unpredictability of the story – I really couldn’t guess even for a second where it was going until the story almost reached the end.
Haelewise is a young girl who has always been different from others but sheltered from the world due to her mother’s protectiveness. But once she loses her mother and finds herself alone and cast away, she decides to find purpose and is very determined in her path. Despite her longing for love and affection, I found that Haelewise is a very resolute character, who knows she has to do something even when she isn’t clear of the path, and will do whatever it takes to achieve the outcome. The way she handles every obstacle in her life is admirable and I really liked her character, even when I wasn’t sure what she was thinking or what she was gonna do next.
Kunegunde is the forest witch who gives her sanctuary and I thought the author did an interesting job creating such a push and pull relationship between them, where they seem to care for the other but are also always at odds. Rika was a small presence, so I felt we really didn’t get to know her well. Ursilda on the other hand as well as Beatrice felt like strong women who valued their relationships and faith more than power and I appreciated their strength of conviction. Haelewise’s mother is a significant presence even though she dies pretty early on, and it felt like she was always with her daughter, protecting and guiding her. And finally, I have to talk about Matthäus whose relationship with Haelewise felt both unbreakable and under developed. Every interaction between them is charged with love and tension, but I felt we didn’t get enough backstory to help us see why they shared such a strong bond. But his loyalty was also definitely very enviable because despite everything, he never forgot his first love.
On the whole, this was a very engaging and fun fairytale retelling which got dark at times, but was also equally powerful in telling a story about women whose historical narratives get forgotten when books are written, who are powerful and confident and do a lot for each other, but never gain the right recognition. This is a story dedicated to all such women and I’m glad I got to read it.
PS: Thank you to Orbit Books and Netgalley for providing me with the advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.