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Book Review: Gretel

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

While many of you know that I am absolute trash for time travel romance, what I am only starting to share with you is my deep and abiding love of all things fairy tale. Long before I read my way through the entire romance collection at my public library, I devoured their fairy tale, folklore, and mythology sections.

One of my least favorite fairy tales was Hansel and Gretel. I’ve never liked the misogyny in the tale. And I’ve never liked the moral… witches are bad, step-families are bad, men are smart. You know, the kind of stuff that’s pretty much in all fairy tales.

Gretel: A Fairy Tale Retold by Niamh Murphy takes the core of the Hansel and Gretel tale, shakes it up, and throws it out onto its ear. First off, Hansel and Gretel aren’t children (likely a good thing considering what comes later) and they aren’t running from a wicked stepmother but poverty, war, and displacement. They are refugees struggling to make their way. While in the woods, they are menaced and pursued by wolves until the Witch, Maeve, rescues them. As in the fairy tale, she ‘fattens them up’ or in reality, feeds them; like the tale, Maeve lives alone in a extremely comfortable cottage. But then the story takes a right turn into the original. Maeve is an exile, driven from society because she dared to love someone her village didn’t approve of.

While Hans is distrustful and disdainful of Maeve, Gretel is captivated by her. Gretel admires her intellect, her charm, and her independent nature. She respects Maeve’s knowledge of the forest and listens to her advice. Gretel develops feelings for the witch.

When I went on my download spree, I didn’t intend on getting a Lesbian Romance. Most of the stories I’ve read in that genre tend to either kill off one of the main characters or have one or both of them be “reformed” by some dude’s cock.

That doesn’t happen here.

The relationship between Maeve and Gretel felt natural. And I liked the characters. Maeve was interesting and had a calm mythical sense about her. Gretel was the ingenue. The innocent. Gretel knew she was missing something, she just didn’t know it was. And her discovery that her admiration of Maeve was more than just hero worship was well done.

That being said, I do need to warn for homophobia in this book. It’s not a surprise and considering that the author was putting the tale on its head. It’s no surprise that Hans isn’t the golden boy that he was in the fairy tale. His actions and reactions set up the final act nicely.

The author’s use of language is lovely, and I wish I had her knack for description. The sex is well-written, but I would have liked a verbal check in from Gretel in addition to the one from Maeve… consent goes both ways.

That being said. This book isn’t perfect and it doesn’t quite get top marks. The author was a little too light of a hand with the foreshadowing. I had to go back and make sure something happened because it was buried in the middle of a paragraph in a compound sentence. Additionally, the author had trouble with punctuation… particularly comma and semi-colon faults.

But the real ding comes from the ending. It felt rushed and sort of anticlimactic even though I get why the author stopped there… the end line is good. I mean the end line is really good. But I’m not satisfied with how it ended. It needed a few more paragraphs to wrap things up.

So with that in mind I give this:

Four stars.

If you want to check it out, it is free from most major retailers!

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