The one who needs rescuing isn’t always the one in the tower.
Rapunzel can throw a knife better than any man. She paints beautiful flowering vines on the walls of her plaster houses. She sings so sweetly she can coax even a beast to sleep. But there are two things she is afraid her mother might never allow her to do: learn to read and marry. Fiercely devoted to Rapunzel, her mother is suspicious of every man who so much as looks at her daughter and warns her that no man can be trusted. After a young village farmer asks for Rapunzel’s hand in marriage, Mother decides to move them once again—this time, to the large city of Hagenheim. The journey proves treacherous, and after being rescued by a knight—Sir Gerek—Rapunzel in turn rescues him farther down the road. As a result, Sir Gerek agrees to repay his debt to Rapunzel by teaching her to read. Could there be more to this knight than his arrogance and desire to marry for riches and position? As Rapunzel acclimates to life in a new city, she uncovers a mystery that will forever change her life. In this Rapunzel story unlike any other, a world of secrets and treachery is about to be revealed after seventeen years of lies. How will Rapunzel finally take control of her own destiny? And who will prove faithful to a lowly peasant girl with no one to turn to?
Melanie Dickerson offers up a retelling of the classic Rapunzel tale, with threads of feminism woven throughout. Opening in Germany in the year 1413, the reader is introduced to a much different Rapunzel than the traditional mopey maiden in the tower we are introduced to as children. Dickerson's Rapunzel is a skilled artist and knife-thrower who wants nothing more than to be literate, wishing to rise above the peasant status which society uses to label her as generally inferior. She would also like to marry (for love) but is unsure if her mother Gothel would ever allow it. Gothel, embittered by her own soured romance years earlier, has raised Rapunzel to never trust any man. In fact, whenever any male shows any sort of romantic inclination towards Rapunzel, Gothel is quick to pack up all their stuff and shuffle her daughter off to the next town to start over. It is during their latest move, en route to the town of Hagenheim, that they are accosted by bandits, but soon saved by Sir Garek, a knight of the duke of Hagenheim. Unfortunately, for his troubles Sir Garek receives some broken bones which force him to hole up at a nearby monastery for a few weeks to recover. Needing something to occupy his mind while on bedrest, Garek offers to teach Rapunzel how to read in her native German. She quickly agrees but knows she must keep the meetings secret from Gothel.
When Gothel does discover the meet-ups between Garek & Rapunzel, she once again instantly tries to usher Rapunzel off to a new town. By this time, however, Rapunzel is starting to embrace having a mind of her own, so with the help of a letter of recommendation from Sir Garek she finds a way to break free from her mother's clutches and discover a new life of relative independence as a maidservant / personal assistant to the Duchess of Hagenheim. While trying to establish her new identity behind castle walls, Rapunzel also discovers some deep, dark secrets about Gothel, secrets that shatter everything she thought she knew about herself.
While reading this story, anytime Gothel came in, I could not stop picturing
the Gothel from the animated movie Tangled! X-D
Dickerson does an admirable job weaving together elements from the classic tale with ideas of her own. As for the story itself, it took me a bit to really get into it. The writing is good and this is a solid retelling, but it lacked a bit of the magical fairytale feel I was hoping for. It wasn't really until Rapunzel starts up life at the castle that I felt myself becoming more invested in her story. In fact, until her arrival at the castle, I was feeling like Rapunzel, as far as her characterization went, was a bit flat. But once secrets and plots start coming out everywhere, Rapunzel impressively steps up and becomes a pivotal part of the bad guy takedown. Gotta say though, I wish more of the knife-throwing had been worked into the storyline. The synopsis had her sounding like a tough, scrappy tomboyish kind of girl but really the knife-throwing is only mentioned a few times. Otherwise, she could have been any average girl stuck into the story. At least until her time to shine at the castle comes up, that is.
What did really impress me were the underlying themes that get addressed throughout the story. One being that your past doesn't have to define you. There are characters here who are haunted by past tragedies and transgressions, who have to learn to forgive not only others but themselves and accept their natural human faultiness. A lesson I think any reader can benefit from. Also touched upon is what a healthy relationship should look like -- whether that relationship be romantic, platonic, or familial. The characters learn how hard it can be, realizing that people you thought you had an important bond with are not treating you with respect / basic human decency. Along with that comes the need to find courage to break away from those people, cutting ties even though at first it feels unnatural and tragic.
I also really liked the character of Lady Rose and how she treated everyone, regardless of their rank or status within the castle with respect and kindness, genuinely wanting to get to know everyone as people. Just one of a number of wonderful characters within the story who show truly admirable traits any reader can be proud to emulate.
FTC Disclaimer: In the case of this particular book, both BookLookBloggers.com AND TNZ Fiction Guild kindly presented me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. As always, the opinions above are entirely my own.