Book Review: The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson (a.k.a., another Rapunzel Retelling)

I read this book for two reasons. First, the cover is absolutely beautiful. Second, I am easily convinced to read any fairytale retelling even though more often than not I am disappointed with them. This book was…not at all what I was expecting…but I’ll get into that in a minute.

Release: November, 2015

Synopsis: The only life Rapunzel has known is moving from village to village with her overbearing mother Gothel, who has taught her from a young age to cover her hair and hate men. But Rapunzel has dreams of her own. She is a talented knife-thrower and dreams of learning to read. Her life changes by happenstance when she and her mother are attacked by bandits on the road and rescued by a young knight, named Sir. Gerek. Further down the road, Rapunzel returns the favor and saves his life. In return, Gerek agrees to teach her how to read. And Rapunzel sets out to defy the only life she has ever known to find happiness in unexpected places.

Non-Spoiler Review

I had no idea this was a Christian book going into it, and one of my biggest criticisms of this book was often the random, shallow inserts about Christianity, which added little to the plot (and this criticism coming from a Christian). The characters were very simplistic, with a few exceptions, falling into the categories of good and bad and no one in between. Saying that, I was glad I stuck with this book, as the plot really took me on an exciting adventure and I actually really appreciated the fairy tale being brought to a more realistic level. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

I have not read a book by this author, and usually I avoid Christian authors, because their take on Christianity is stereotyped and shallow. And this book was no different. The characters would be having a completely typical conversation and then throw in “God” and “Jesus” in randomly. If it was weaved into the story better, I would have no problem with most of these inserts, especially since this takes place in Germany in the 1400s, which was a very Catholic time in Europe. Some of the things made sense, like when Rapunzel begins to read she learns from the Bible. This is true to history, as Bibles and prayer books were the most common books to find. Many literate people would carry a prayer book with them at all times, so it makes sense that Gerek would have a Bible on hand to teach Rapunzel. But then a lot of the religious inserts seemed a lot more forced, and so in-your-face. I am a strong believer that an author can weave in Christian ideals while also being a bit subtle (just look at C.S. Lewis).

This brings me to my second criticism: this book lacks subtly completely. I was never surprised by a plot twist, because the author would literally hold up a sign in your face saying, “this information is thrown in super obviously, but ignore it until I realize its important fifty pages down the line.” I mean, really? Yes, this book has no subtly (I’ll get more into this in my spoiler section).

Next are the characters. I was surprised how much I liked Rapunzel. She was feminine, but also strong and independent. She was firmly set in reality and understood her own limits and failings. Her fears were understandable—like her mistrust for men—because of her upbringing with her ‘mother.’ And yet she was strong, in both her convictions and stubbornness.

Gerek was kind of bland, to be honest, and a bit too perfect. His one and main internal struggle throughout the book was his attempt to not fall in love with Rapunzel because he wanted to marry into wealth and stick it to his older brother (yes, that was his main character arch). Not the most convincing conflict. He was rather a typical moral knight with little actual depth. I didn’t really dislike him, but I didn’t really like him either.

Gothel was actually my favorite character (of course I would like the villain). Unlike the original fairytale, where her only characteristic was ‘evil,’ this character was clearly motivated and complex. I actually enjoyed getting to understand why she did what she did throughout the book.

But by far, my favorite part of this novel was the plot itself, which is an extremely different take on the Rapunzel fairytale. The tower only plays a small part in the plot and Rapunzel’s long golden hair is—thank God—not climbed by anyone, which is a good thing because I’m pretty sure that would hurt a lot. Also, I appreciate that Gerek and Rapunzel spend a lot of time together before they fall in love, as opposed to the original where the prince literally climbs her hair into the tower and they’re in love (a bit creepy).

But before I get more into the plot, I have to give a brief spoiler warning!

Spoilers Ahead!

In the original novel, Rapunzel is the daughter of peasants who steal produce from the witch’s garden and the witch kidnaps Rapunzel in payment, locking her in a tower all her life. I liked in this one how Gothel kidnapped Rapunzel to seek revenge on Rapunzel’s father—a duke—who was actually Gothel’s real half-brother. Gothel’s mother had an affair with the duke’s father, got pregnant, and he threw her out. Gothel, in revenge, stole Rapunzel, after she herself had an affair with a knight who left her, got pregnant, and then the baby ended up dying. Gothel raised Rapunzel as her daughter and went semi-crazy when Rapunzel escaped to work in the castle of her real father. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is.

Though eventually Gothel does kidnap Rapunzel and put her in a tower for a few weeks—from which Gerek rescues her—the actual tower part takes up less than fifty pages of the book.

As I said before, while the plot was rather predictable (the moment Rapunzel’s birth mother talked about losing a child with golden hair at the same time Gothel started raising Rapunzel, I knew what was going to happen), but the adventure and action was still fun. The side plots (like the bandit trying to hurt Rapunzel and Gothel’s old boyfriend using her again to get power) all added to a rather complex story that I enjoyed.

Conclusion

If the author was a bit more subtle (both in plot, characters, and the Christian message), this book would have gotten five out of five stars from me. However, I still enjoyed the book (I gave it 3 out of 5 stars). The pacing, most of the romance, and the adventure were all well developed. There was no magic, which I liked since a lot of fairytale retellings rely on magic a lot. But, like so many retellings it fell a bit short for me. It’s certainly not a horrible book, but in my mind it could have been so much better.

Have you read this book or any other by the author? What do you think of Christian books or fairytale retellings? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

9 thoughts on “Book Review: The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson (a.k.a., another Rapunzel Retelling)

  1. The cover of the book is lovely! Your reason for avoiding Christian authors is one of my reasons as well. I like the plot of this one, but I’m so over fairy tales, this one won’t be making it onto my TBR.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the idea of revisiting fairy tales, but like you, I’m usually disappointed with the results which for the most part consist of flipping the script to blur the line between good and evil.
    Christian fiction, regardless of the medium, is even more frustrating. 90% seems to consist of either the saccharine ‘Bibles and Bonnets’ love stories or ham-fisted preaching to the chorus.

    As a Catholic writer, it is something I try my best to keep out of my own writing. I take what lessons I can from great Catholic writers like Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Conner and JR Tolkien who all managed to create works that were heavily Catholic without being preachy.

    It’s a difficult trick, let me tell ya!

    To be fair to lesser Christian writers and filmmakers, a great deal of secular fiction is every bit as preachy (different dogma – same ham-fisting), especially in the caricatured renditions of Christians and Christianity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so true! It’s not just Christian fiction that preaches, and I’m sick of it all. I’m fine with subtle messages, but messages are so rarely subtle anymore. I try to do similar things in my books. I believe morality is so much more important to get across to the reader than quoting the Bible at random. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fairytale retelling is interesting. It’s a mix of something old and something new, which makes people feel both familiar and curious.

    In addition, when an author wants to conveys his ideas or concepts to readers in his novel, in most cases he makes the novel unnatural, even Tolstoy did this(in my opinion). But I think Fyodor Dostoyevsky did a good job.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always preferred Dostoyevsky to Tolstoy as well, though I never thought Tolstoy’s writing was unnatural. But I agree that fairytale retellings are interesting because they combine the old and the new. In most cases, authors do tend to convey their ideals poorly. That’s why I get excited if an author does it well, like Dostoyevsky! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

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