The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne – Review

Published: July 26, 2022

Publisher: Redhook

Series: N/A

Genre: Fantasy, Historical

Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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…

Just to say up front – I was so ungodly confused for the first couple pages of this book I thought perhaps I had severely misjudged what this was about. But lo’, it was actually a really interesting way to start out a very old tale. Basically a well known professor is asked to check out a very old illuminated manuscript which greatly details the life of a medieval woman unlike any document previously discovered. She begins to read the document and there the story of Haelewise begins.

Haelewise’s story was both tragic and empowering. She’s raised in a small town by parents of very differing beliefs – her father is Christian and her mother continues to secretly follow the old ways despite having made promises otherwise. As one might imagine, this creates a great deal of tension in the household, made even more serious because Haelewise suffers fainting spells that cannot be driven out by folk cures or priestly remedies. Her life seems to be one traumatic event after another – death, spurned love, fear and fleeing in the night to safety – until she arrives at Gothel, the bewitched tower deep in the forest. Haelewise begins to learn more of her heritage, but is headstrong and foolish, insisting on sticking her nose where it might get cut off. 

This is deeply in the realm of historical fantasy and provides an unromanticized look at what life might have been like for a woman during this time period, especially one who is under suspicion of having unnatural abilities. While I can’t exactly say I enjoyed the story, it was interesting and I appreciated it for what it was. Haelewise’s life was full of difficulties, particularly in her younger years which is what the book mostly focuses on. The later years are briefly run through in the latter pages (epilogue style!). I always think the intersection of Christianity and traditional/folk beliefs in stories is pretty interesting – it creates its own sort of tension and seems to act as the antagonist at times. 

Overall, if you are a fan of historical fantasy, especially with a female main character, this is definitely worth checking out. It won’t go down as a favorite book of mine as historical fantasy isn’t usually my favorite obscure subgenre, but it’s a very well written story. Just not quite my 5 star cup of tea!


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