Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Haelewise is never quite accepted in her village, with her fainting spells and strange black eyes. When her mother dies, she has no choice but to flee from the mob at her door. She seeks refuge at Gothel, with a wise old woman who helped her mother many years ago.

There’s nothing like a woman who lives alone to get stories going.

I adored The Book of Gothel, a reworking of Rapunzel from the witch’s point of view. Set in medieval Germany, it is the writings of Haelewise, an odd girl who trains as midwife with her mother. After she leaves her village, her story becomes entangled with that of a princess and forbidden magic.

The country is a Catholic one and Haelewise’s father tries all sorts of religious methods to cure his daughter of her possessions. Only after she leaves home does she discover the truth of her condition, learns of the female faith that has been suppressed and the things her mother kept from her.

Her love for me had gone wild like those plants, choking out everything else inside her, even her own desire to live.

The story harks back to the original Rapunzel, who wasn’t actually called Rapunzel at all. The Italian version of the story just makes more sense. The unwed, pregnant woman craves parsley, which in large quantities can bring on contractions. Used early enough in pregnancy it can be an abortifacient. So the woman sends her husband off for large quantities of her herb, maybe because she’s worried about having a child out of wedlock.

The plants known as “rapunzel” have no such effects and there are many theories why the German versions decided to change the herb, but they did decide to call the witch Mother Gothel, with Gothel meaning midwife.

This is why the framing device didn’t quite work for me, as they present the story as a historical text, one that might have created the fairy tale. The rest of the story, which is the majority of it, is wonderful though. I loved that it focused on the midwifery aspect, you can imagine a lone woman offering certain services would have been persecuted as a witch. In this case, it just turns out they are witches too.

Their way isn’t the only way. All you have to do is hold hands and speak vows. There is power in the words themselves.

The Book of Gothel is published by Orbit and will be available in paperback, ebook and audiobook editions from 22nd July 2022. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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