RAPUNZEL RETELLING NUMBER 2
Measha Stone’s Tower
If you missed the introduction to this year’s Fairytale Fantasy series of posts, find it HERE.
This is the second of the Rapunzel-themed novels I’m discussing during this year’s Valentine Week. The novel, published in 2018, is Book 2 in Stone’s Ever After series. The novels in the series all seem to be fairytale-themed, although Tower is the only one of the four I’ve read. The others seem to be (very loosely, if Tower is any indication) based on Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Fox and the Hound.
Two important things to know about this novel:
This is not a work of fantasy. It is romance.
The fairytale elements are more or less a gimmick on which the romance plot hangs.
So. . .considering this is romance and not fantasy, why am I writing about it in a fantasy blog? Themes drawn from fairy tales are really interesting to me, and when they are present in contemporary fiction, they usually send the novel in a fantasy direction. This novel, though, is not a re-telling of the Rapunzel story, in spite of its subtitle, “A Dark Romance Rapunzel Retelling.” The Rapunzel elements seem to be a fun way the author has chosen to get into her story; a fun way to stand out from the romance novel crowd, maybe? I found the decision to write not just one romance novel but a series of them with a fairy tale hook to be a very interesting choice the writer made.
If you are the kind of reader who enjoys romance as well as fantasy, read on. If you hate romance novels, maybe give this post a miss. I was kind of fascinated with how the Rapunzel element threads through this story, though.
BIG WARNING: This novel is BDSM, and it is very steamy. I won’t say it’s outright erotica, where the whole point of the book is the sex, just a bunch of sex scenes strung along on a bare-bones plot–and not porn, either. But the sex scenes are very explicit, they are a huge part of the book, and the BDSM parts may seem disturbing to some readers.
What are the Rapunzel themes here? The main character Azalea’s last name is Gothel, which is the traditional name of the Rapunzel witch. She has blonde hair which her . . .um. . . SPOILER ALERT. . .”mother” insists she wear very long. The place where she may or may not be imprisoned is a BDSM club named The Tower. The plot involves a power struggle over who will possess Azalea–actually, which place they will imprison her, the male main character’s sex club or the mother’s forbidding house. Azalea has a plant-themed name. And that’s it. It’s a steamy romance novel with a few Rapunzel references stuck to it.
As these kinds of novels go, it’s pretty well-written. The plot is ridiculous, but then, so are fantasy plots, if you really think about it. All fiction requires, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge put it, “a willing suspension of disbelief.” The real question is how willing we readers become due to the skill of the novelist in getting us to buy into the craziness. I mean, think of Coleridge’s own Christabel. Readers of genre fiction, whether it’s fantasy, romance, or whatever else your reading drug of choice might be, glom onto a book because the tropes are ones they love, even crave. Tropes that beckon to them. “Come on in. . .willingly suspend your disbelief. . .let us sweep you away into a different type of world.” That’s the promise of genre fiction.
The real tropes in Stone’s novel are romance tropes, not fantasy tropes. They are (and I may be missing a few): bad boy romance, billionaire romance, bdsm romance, enemies-to-lovers romance, alpha-male romance, a whiff of “mafia” romance (in that the MMC’s business appears to be some sort of mob activity), grumpy vs. sunshine. . .uh. . . I’m probably leaving some out. If you like reading this kind of book, will get a kick out of spotting the Rapunzel references, and don’t mind that the MMC (main male character) is a controlling jerk, go for it. Okay, to be fair, the author works hard to convince us that the MMC is actually a sweetheart at the core. (Was I convinced? Not really.) The BDSM is fairly skillfully handled, though, unlike that supremely stupid, embarrassingly poorly written novel Fifty Shades of Gray. The final tip-off that Stone’s novel is romance, if anyone had a doubt: the requisite “man-chest cover” (see above), which is the usual marketing message to readers that they can expect a hot, sexy between-the-covers experience about hot, sexy under-the-covers activities.
Full disclosure: I actually read romance novels, and have been known to write a few myself (under a pen name), although mine probably don’t tick all the boxes the way Ms. Stone’s do. I also like it that this book appears to be indie-published, which is something I do myself. So I have some real professional admiration here and hope this review doesn’t come off too snarky. I guess if I were going to read a BDSM romance for fun, I’d have liked it better without Rapunzel.
NEXT UP: My discussion of Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, my favorite of the Rapunzel picks.
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