The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne is my most disappointing read of 2022 so far. It had so much potential and up until around the halfway point, I loved it but it fell flat after that. This review will have spoilers.
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…
When I saw this book on Netgalley, I was instantly interested. I mean, the origin story of Mother Gothel set in medieval Germany? Yes, please. I should have loved this book but characters with no depth and flat writing ruined it for me.
As a retelling, it simply wasn’t good. Without reading the synopsis, you wouldn’t have known that this was the origin story of Mother Gothel until the very end of the book. Rapunzel is hardly in the story at all and I mean, that’s fine but why even market it as a retelling? This could have been a new fairytale-esque story in a historical setting and totally stood on its own.
As for the characters, I initially really liked them but the growth and depth simply wasn’t there. I didn’t feel that Haelewise really changed as the story went on, except to maybe become more annoying. I also could not have cared LESS about the relationship between Matthaus and Haelewise. It felt very stale and Matthaus was just a flat, boring character. I really didn’t expect them to end up together because he seemed like that typical first love in YA stories. I assumed Haelewise would fall in love with someone better suited for her and not the boy next door that she grew up with. I was very disappointed with the entire romance subplot.
The worldbuilding was also, for lack of a better word, flat. I never had a good grasp of what Haelewise was seeing or where she was at. In a fairytale retelling or in a fantasy, I want those magical, flowery descriptions.
The majority of this book was spent with Haelewise going from place to place. She met many people but none of them had any lasting impact on the overall story. It’s really a shame because they were interesting, especially Haelewise’s grandmother. Of course, this isn’t my story but if I could have edited it, I would have cut back on the traveling, built up all of the characters and focused more on Haelewise’s life after Rapunzel. The most interesting part of the story was the last chapter and if that could have been moved to the 50% or 75% points, this would have been a much better story.
It might seem like I hated The Book of Gothel but I didn’t. I just think it could have been much more than it was. I would read more from Mary McMyne in the future. Have you read this book? Let me know what you thought about it! Thanks for reading and have a great day!