The Book of Gothel

Written by Mary McMyne
Review by Linnea Tanner

How would your perspective of religious beliefs change after reading a medieval codex illustrated with images reminiscent of fairy tales? The historical fantasy, The Book of Gothel, by Mary McMyne strives to answer the question. The story is told from the viewpoint of Haelewise, a young woman living in a Christian world during the Middle Ages in Germany. Her father and villagers believe a demon possesses and curses her with fainting spells. Her mother, a midwife and healer, tries to protect her from the scourge of the church, but she dies when Haelewise is an adolescent. Fearing persecution, Haelewise escapes on a quest to uncover her past at the Tower of Gothel, where her grandmother resides. There she begins a journey to discover her life’s role based on the spiritual healing of the ancestral Mother Goddess.

McMyne masterfully weaves fantastical elements into the historical backdrop of medieval Germany. A page-turner, the tale reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, but from a woman’s perspective. The storytelling gripped me from the beginning and continued holding my interest to the memorable ending. Haelewise is an engaging heroine who rises from self-doubt as a child into a formidable woman, discovering her strength from the Mother Goddess. This evocative story is rich in sensory descriptions, and the suspense heightens to a heart-throbbing climax. It is a multi-layered story with themes of unconditional love, redemption, and coming of age.

The Book of Gothel will appeal to both fantasy and historical readers who enjoy vivid storytelling, bringing to mind favorite fairy tales that might be based on past real-life experiences. Highly recommended.