First of all, I would like to thanks Serena Valentino for organized a trivia contest on her Facebook page for an advanced reader copy of Mother Knows Best. I will keep this review simple with no spoilers in order to tease you and make your mouth water without revealing the plot and the twists.
The story begins with a beautiful pragmatic young woman who wanted to see the world but decides to stay in her home birth by respect and love. No, I'm not talking about Rapunzel. The life of this young woman starts many years in the past, a hundred centuries before the events of Tangled in a frightening landscape. This is the story of the old witch who hoarded a golden magic flower. An eerily, selfish person who kidnapped a child in order to stay young forever. We know all about Rapunzel's life. but what about the flower's life? And the long existence of this old witch?
Gothel has always been one of the most mysterious villains in the Disney Pantheon, and probably the most undeveloped. Every time I watched Tangled she intrigued me more and more. I always wanted to know more about her. They were so many unanswered questions. But with this book, I have now the feeling that I know Gothel much better and I can even relate to her.
Serena explores her entire life, first with her teen years when Gothel was living with her family then the beginning of her adulthood, concluding with the events of the movie. I honestly was positively gobsmacked by her story, not only because she is incredibly disturbing compared to the rest of the series but this tale filled with secrets and twists as shocking as the ones in Mistress of All Evil enlight the fact that she is probably the most realistic villain, being an abusive mother, but also being capable to feel emotions every human feel. She was a very different person when she was younger, yet still, a girl fighting against her worst demons.
Though I already knew how she would end up and what choices she would make, Gothel surprised me and I must admit I rooted for her, for all the tragic events in her life. That is to say, I can't excuse what she did to Rapunzel or the path she chooses but I can still understand. I would have probably done the same thing too. And the moment when Gothel starts to age and turns into dust was still an abrupt end once we get to know her best( small pun word) and that we start to love her ( or hate her? So many mixed feelings about this character).
Of course, though the book was centered on Gothel, we get a study of other characters that provide more POVs and background on the old witch. The family of Gothel gets its own background which was quite interesting and one of my favorite aspects. Gothel's relationship with her sisters Primrose and Hazel was beautiful. I daresay that this story is also theirs. Those three brave and brilliant ladies are strong female characters, the heart of the story, and a perfect example of a powerful sisterhood, despite their differences and the trials to overcome. Manea, Gothel's mother was probably as enigmatic as her black-hearted daughter was in the movie and their relationship really helped to get to know Gothel better.
With the addition of two supporting, yet not one dimension but well-written characters: Sir Jacob who personally was one of my favorites and Mrs Tiddlebottom, familiar faces from the series step into our old witch's life like the exceptional Odd Sisters and their little sister Circe but also their cat Pflanze as well as a famous Disney Princess. We learn some secrets about them and I can't wait to see them again in the Odd Sisters Book.
If most of the plot takes place in a creepy land, Serena shows us once again how much she can alter between beauty, madness, and monstrosity, sometimes even mixing the three of them. This creates a beverage as good as a hazelnut soup with a sleeping potion. If this book is the creepiest of the series, there are also beautiful and heartbreaking scenes as well as comic moments. Serena respected the plot of Tangled and its atmosphere but also give to Gothel the world she fit in. And this is just proof of how creative and brilliant her storytelling is.
The scenes of the movie are well transcribed, the writing style is still exquisite, the references to fairy tales and Disney characters continue to bring even more magic there is a few error spelling in this unfinished version which shows how much the author tries to make it sound like a real book ( and she succeeds because it didn't felt choppy), Rapunzel, Flynn, and Pascal have some moments and last but not least the relationships and the background of Gothel are amazing which cause this story to be one of my favorite in the series with Maleficent's one.
For the fifth time, Serena brought us in a world with dark magic, love, evil, powerful women, and show us how less we know someone's life until we read it. This new installment is totally different from the rest of the series but in a good way and reflects the best aspects of her work and her writing career. You won't be disappointed. Reading this novel is like eating a slice of a hazelnut chocolate cake.
And remember that the world is dark, selfish, and cruel. If it finds even the slightest ray of sunshine, it destroys it. Trust me, dear. Our mothers ( or at least some of them) know best.