My rating: I’ll definitely go here again / Outstanding adventure! (4.5)
In keeping with our theme of late – that is, fairy tale retellings, I add to our list Rapunzel’s story, as told by Madeleine E. Robins, in Sold for Endless Rue.
As the blurb says, this book does explain why Rapunzel’s mother/witch locked her in a tower. It tells the story compellingly and convincingly, with fully believable human failings and motives. A masterful blend of historical fiction and the familiar “Rapunzel” fairy tale, Sold for Endless Rue enchants readers with stories about the three women central to the original fairy tale.
In the first narrative, Laura, a young girl running from captivity, hides in the home of a mountainside healer named Crescia. She becomes the healer’s apprentice, studying and working hard to continue Crescia’s good works. Eventually, her tale brings her to Salerno, where she studies to be the first female physician in her lifetime. In the second tale, Agnesa, young wife of a merchant family scion, moves in next door to the medica, and they become friendly neighbors. In the third and final story, Laura’s young daughter struggles between doing her duty to her adoptive mother and following her heart.
The novel is so thoroughly detailed and firmly grounded in historical fiction, I found it hard to remember that it follows the fairy tale. It is true to the fairy tale, as true as it can be as a historical novel, without the magic of the fairy tale. While the fairy tale focuses on Rapunzel, the majority of this story is told by Laura, the “witch.”
The women and their relationships are so real, so different, that each one stands out and each one is sympathetic, though they each have their own troubles and character flaws, and by far the young daughter is the most likeable. Being more interested in Rapunzel’s story (especially when I read in the description that she walks about town dressed as a boy when she is fifteen), I thought I would find Laura’s story uninteresting. Yet, it was captivating. She is more than just a cruel witch. By turns I was happy for Laura, disliked her, and felt pity for her. Perhaps the most skillful aspect here is that the author is able to make her readers feel pity for the witch, whose main purpose is to ruin others’ lives.
Less space is given to Agnesa to tell her tale, but that suited me fine. The young daughter’s story, her struggle to meet parental expectations, her need for adventure and freedom, the love that she finds with her friend the fisherman’s son, and the resolution of the story were captivating, and I couldn’t put the book down after getting to the third part of the book.
This fairy tale, set in historical Salerno in Italy, told by the three women who’s lives are turned about in the original fairy tale, retains the fairy tale crispness of language and adds the historical novel’s wealth of detail and evocation of a different time. Recommended for all fans of fairy tale retellings and historical fiction.
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier remixes two fairy tales, “The Frog Prince” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Marillier’s writing also combines a historical realism with believable characterization. It has a more fantastical feel to it, with a parallel fairy world that the sisters go to every night.
Philip Pullman entrances with his spare, elegant retellings of his favorite of Grimms’ fairy tales. Robins, in Sold for Endless Rue writes with similar prose and tone. If you’re looking for something to remind you of the fairy tales you loved, start here. This is that book.
Finally, (and I haven’t read this one yet), Kate Forsyth retells the Rapunzel tale in another historical Italy, this time during the Renaissance period. She, too, tells the story of three women central to the tale: the witch, the child, and the author.