Rapunzel is born of her mother's bargain with a witch. Before she was born, her mother had a fierce craving for Rapunzel, a kind of Parsley. When her father was caught stealing the Rapunzel from the witch's garden, the witch made a bargain with her mother: all the Rapunzel she could eat from the Witch's garden, but if her mother found herself unable to love the baby she gave birth to, the witch could take the baby in payment. Rapunzel's mother agreed, and when Rapunzel was born, her mother was horrified. Not only was Rapunzel as bald as an egg, but she would never be able to grow hair. When the witch came for the baby, Rapunzel's mother was only too glad to give her up.
So the witch took Rapunzel and left, and now they live in one place at the furthest edge of a small village. The villagers disdain the witch except when they need her magic, and even Rapunzel is considered strange. Her only friend is a boy named Harry who travels with a tinker and merchant, who rescued him from another village. Once every year or so, the tinker/merchant and the boy come by to visit and spend time with the witch, Rapunzel and their cat, Mr. Jones, who is named after the merchant who gave her the cat.
Until the year that the drought comes, and all the crops dry up. The witch is blamed for this, even though she has never done anything to the villagers, and she and Rapunzel only have time to dispose of their property to a farmer whose land adjoins their own before the merchant and Rue come and they all flee together. But the Witch is hiding a secret of her own: Rapunzel, who is not the witch's real daughter, has replaced her real one, who is imprisoned in a tower by horrible magics. And only Rapunzel can free the witch's daughter- but to do so, she must discover her secret and why she agreed to be imprisoned in the first place.
And there is a Prince coming around whose intention is to free the captured woman (who he thinks is a Princess) in the tower. As Rapunzel lives with Rue, the witch's daughter, can she find out the girl's secret and free her, persuade her to marry the Prince who is in love with her despite only talking to Rapunzel, and bring about a reconciliation between the witch, Melisande, and her daughter? And if she can, what will Rapunzel, having given Rue everything of her own, including her name, do with her life afterwards?
I liked this book, which takes the story of Rapunzel and twists it just enough to be recognizable, yet different, and more enjoyable than the straight retelling of the story as well. Rapunzel without her iconic hair? Impossible, and yet here it works quite well at setting her apart. I was wondering why, at the beginning of the story, Rapunzel's mother was so certain that she would never grow hair. I mean, most babies are born bald, and eventually grow hair, but maybe the witch knew it and that was why she was so certain.
The witch, usually portrayed as horrible and evil, here is sympathetic and loving, certainly moreso than Rapunzel's real mother. But everyone in this book had a secret to hide, from Harry to Mt. Jones, as well as Melisande and Rue, her daughter. It's up to Rapunzel to unravel them, and to find a way to live after her entire life has changed. I also liked the ending and the new life and name that she chose.
Fairytales are often seen as old and outdated, but this series puts a new spin on the old stories and I enjoyed it very much. The "Once Upon a Time" series that this book is part of would make a good reading choice for teens who like fantasy, but only want a pinch of it in their stories. Recommended.