Review: THE BOOK OF GOTHEL by Mary McMyne

Publisher: Redhook
Page Count: 385
Release Date: July 26th, 2022
Series: Standalone
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It

The Book of Gothel

Haelwise has always been a bit of an outcast in her village, shunned for the strange color of her eyes and the fainting spells that strike her at random. All she wants is to marry the boy she loves and a simple life as a midwife, but when her mother dies, Haelwise finds herself increasingly alone and mistrusted. Fearing for her safety, she travels to the mysterious tower of Gothel, a place rumored to be hidden from the eyes of men and a haven for women. But even in the safety of Gothel, Haelwise finds herself drawn into the schemes of men, ones that threatens the lives of multiple women unless Haelwise can find a way to stop them.

THE BOOK OF GOTHEL is a quiet (but never dull) historical fantasy of one woman’s journey to find her place in a world that wants to take her choices from her. It is a very loose retelling of the Rapunzel fable, though the less you think about that aspect, the better, as Rapunzel doesn’t enter the scene until the very end of the book. Instead, THE BOOK OF GOTHEL is a coming of age story that follows Haelwise, a woman with magical gifts struggling to understand where they come from and how to use them.

THE BOOK OF GOTHEL is a book that revels in what at one point is referred to as “domestic minutiae” of a medieval woman’s life. It’s not uncommon for medieval fantasy to be uninterested in the goings-on of its women characters, the ones who appear to live quietly in the background. Haelwise’s desires at the beginning of the book are simple. She wants to the marry the boy she loves and become a mother. She wants community (especially of other women), to feel like she belongs. As she discovers her own magic, she wants to understand who she is. These are every day desires that the world seems intent on keeping from her, and make up the main drive of Haelwise’s journey. But while her desires are simple, the world she is thrust into is not; her quest entangles her with increasingly powerful people, until an unassuming midwife holds the fate of a kingdom in her hands.

It’s Haelwise’s drive for answers that make her such an engaging character. She is constantly torn between patience and skepticism in her search for truth. Haelwise understands that some things take time, but at a certain point, she also decides that nothing will happen unless she takes matters into her own hands. She’s a character constantly trying to follow the rules of others or society, but also willing to toss those rules out the window if they are working against her.

It’s somewhat poignant, given events in the US right before the release of this book, that at every turn Haelwise seems to face those who want to take her choices from her. The people of her town don’t want her to live in peace (or sometimes, live at all). Her suitor’s father blocks her marriage. Others thwart Haelwise’s ability to use her gifts. The safest places in the world of this book are the ones that give women options. The Tower of Gothel is a haven where a woman receive all kinds of support, from aid during a difficult birth to the termination of a pregnancy. Haelwise becomes a fierce defender of a woman’s right to choose her own fate in any situation, and is at her most outraged when that choice is impinged upon.

If you have any love for historical fantasy at all, THE BOOK OF GOTHEL is an easy recommend. It’s a quiet story, but an engrossing one. It’s a fairy tale about fairy tales, intrigued by the stories we choose to tell and how we choose to tell them, but equally intrigued by the stories that don’t get told. The stakes might not be end of the world, but that doesn’t make them any less important. Haelwise seeks to control her own fate – what could be more important than that?

Note: I was provided a free ARC by the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.

7 thoughts on “Review: THE BOOK OF GOTHEL by Mary McMyne

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: