Caitie's Reviews > Zel

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli
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's review
Apr 08, 2010

really liked it
Read in April, 2010

** spoiler alert ** Well this caught me off guard.

It's a retelling of the story of Rapunzel. Looking at the cover and the size of the book (just over 200 pages, and small dimensions), I was expecting the classic story, someone undeniably evil locks her in a tower, a handsome prince finds her, they talk, he visits occasionally, eventually the brave prince defeats evil, and sweeps Rapunzel off and marries her right then.

Nope. Not quite.

The beginning was so sweet and the girl was so obnoxiously cheerful and naive that I thought I was going to punch her if she kept it up and if the whole book was going to be like that, but it darkened up quite a bit. The book switches between Zel's point of view, Mother's point of view, and Konrad's (the count) point of view. All are written in present tense, which always bugs me, but surprisingly, I was brought around to it eventually. The interesting part is that Mother was the only character whose chapters were written in first person instead of third, like the others.

The twist in this story that was interesting is that the mother locks the girl in the tower, but she's not totally evil. She genuinely loves her daughter, and is desperate to keep her with her always. The first chapter that is hers gives the reader a sense that she's not quite right. As the story unfolds, you get more and more insights to the mother's psyche and background, and you pity her, even though she's doing totally evil things. She was barren and essentially sacrificed her soul to get her daughter. She turned herself into a witch, consorting with devils, turning her back on everything she believed for the sake of love. Weird juxtaposition, right? Sacrificing a soul in exchange for love. She wants her daughter to do the same, so they can be together forever. She was a really interesting, desperate character.

As for Zel, she's never had a reason to distrust her mother, which is kind of scary as you get to know Mother better. Zel has had a happy, albeit excluded life, and is incessantly happy and content with her life. Her life in the tower shows her progression from naive child to distrustful woman. Being locked in a tower for two years with no human contact save her mother an hour a day affected her psyche. Her chapters tracked her slow descent into insanity. She never made it to completely insane, but you could see where she was headed. She went a little savage.

Even Konrad had his creepy moments. He obsesses about the girl after meeting her once. He even comes to recognize how weird his obsession is and tries to shake it off, but he can't. Somehow, though, you end up liking both the main characters, while alternately respecting and loathing the mother.

There were a lot of other themes in this book but I don't feel like writing about them right now cause this is too long. You'll just have to read it and find out. So overall, a dark and psychologically interesting take on the Rapunzel you never knew.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Tim (new)

Tim Giauque Interesting. I like the deconstruction of a familiar story and putting it into more modern, human, believable terms.

I think the greatest evils people can commit are done in the name of good intentions. If you convince yourself you're doing bad things for the right reasons, you can more easily ignore your conscience.

Ashley-Anne I have to admit I don`t usually like present tense either but in this book it gives such a great sense of urgency. napoli does this a lot i think.

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