This tale starts both as one that can be found in a storybook and in a horror story: four women living in an enchanted forest, with the nature of witches. Three of them will have to make tough decisions to earn their happy endings, while the fourth will ultimately seal their fates. This is the story of a young girl named Gothel, likely to kidnap children one day for selfish purposes. But in this book, other women in her life are given a voice: her sisters Hazel and Primrose, as well as her housekeeper Mrs. Tiddlebottom( yeah that's her real name) and the most important one, Manea, Queen of the dead, mother of the three sister witches.
The parallels between Gothel and Manea are rather fascinating, to say the least: both women obsessed by power, having no problem hurting children, relishing in the idea of eternal youth, selfish women with hair as black as their hearts.
As a mother, Manea doesn't deserve any awards. When she doesn't neglect her daughters, too occupied with magic and slaughters of villages, she eventually physically abuse her daughters and call them weak for having feelings unlike her. But she also displays a level of mystery that makes just as much, if not more, intriguing as Gothel in Tangled. She keeps a lot of things for herself such as her link with her only minion able to talk, Jacob. It's never really clear if she loves him or just enjoys the power she has over the poor dead man. And even when she goes out of the picture...she remains very present in Gothel's life.
This novel divides itself into three big parts: The first one tells us all about Gothel's disturbing past in her ghastly lands, the Dead Woods, growing up with her family. The second one shows us Gothel on the other side, in the land of the living, trying to build a beautiful life for her sisters and herself in this new place, along with her mother's presence nearby...and finally the events of the movie, with the kidnapping of Rapunzel, their time together and the story we already know which include a thief, a chameleon-frog and a frying pan and conclude with the death of the old witch.
Gothel's dynamic with her sisters works very well and the latter plays a large role in the story, causing this tale to also belong to them. They represent the moral side of our baby snatcher: Gothel is torn between the approval of her mother along with the possibility of posessing great power and the endearing bond she shares with her sisters since birth.
The Old Witch starts as a young girl fighting against her worst demons, born with a black heart and trying to obtain a compromise in her life. She's a bookworm, thoughtful, but already displays selfish layers. Her paranoia only comes later and is greatly justified as well as her apparent hatred for the world.
One might question Jacob's side in the story. He is helping Gothel and her sisters several times, acting as the father they never had, yet he kidnapped Primrose and Hazel and killed a lot of innocent. He also seems to hide a lot from Gothel and not only the horrific ways that she can use to resurrect her sisters. One might argue he was under Manea's thumb or he did it all in the name of love. In any case, it makes him a character much grayer.
Among the set of unanswered questions alluded sooner, we are left with a hanging one: Manea's mother. We are told she died in the room the Odd Sisters slept during their stay in the Dead Woods and that she taught Manea her magic. She is supposedly a former queen of the dead and her daughter seemed afraid of her, refusing to sleep in her bedroom as stated when Gothel wonders why her mother never thought of making it her quarters. Was Gothel's grandmother as abusive and evil as Manea? Could it explain the origin of this cycle of abuse?
* Gothel was both hateful and relatable. One aspect that I loed was the parallels between her young self and the woman we know from Tangled: She tries to create a beautiful house for her sisters, to make sure they doesn't leave her, just like she did with the tower for Rapunzel to show her that leaving this safe place for a dangerous universe would be crazy;
Notes: there are some unanswered questions regarding some character's fates and backstories but as it is a series and the next book is confirmed to pick up where this one ends, it should be answered very soon.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 rapunzel flowers