Forsyth blends fact and fiction in a novel that combines the story of a young woman with long hair who's been locked in a tower with the tale of the real-life Frenchwoman who wrote the story we know as "Rapunzel."
After King Louis XIV banishes his cousin Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force to a convent in 1697, she has a hard time getting used to a life of austerity and isolation in the French countryside. She misses the excitement and luxury of the daring, robust court life she once led and yearns for the young husband for whom she renounced her religion. An elderly nun takes Charlotte-Rose under her wing and, as they tend the nunnery’s garden, relates the story of Margherita, a young Venetian girl imprisoned in a remote tower by an evil sorceress. The witch, La Strega Bella, weaves tresses into the girl’s fiery mane and regularly uses her long locks to climb the tower in order to bring Margherita food and extract droplets of her blood. The magical tales of the girl and the sorceress unfold in segments around Charlotte-Rose’s first-person account of her tenuous positions as a ward of the court, a Huguenot and a headstrong female who sometimes risks the king’s wrath to pursue her own interests or help others. Her story serves as a balance between Margherita’s innocence as she secretly explores the tower and makes a ghastly discovery and La Strega Bella’s shadowy actions, which feed her obsession for maintaining eternal youth. Each of the three finds love, but the outcomes of their relationships differ. Despite many lusty encounters that add little substance to the tale, Forsyth undertakes an ambitious plot and, with a creative presentation, makes it work. She convincingly conveys a fairy tale–like quality in her writing and peppers the narrative with historical detail and some interesting twists that neatly tie together the strands of the story.
This unconventional spin on a children’s classic is a captivating read and unquestionably aimed toward adults.