ARC Review: What Once was Mine by Liz Braswell

  • Title: What Once was Mine
  • Author: Liz Braswell
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young
  • Release Date: 9/7/21
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Age Range: Young Adult
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Publisher’s Summary: The 12th installment in the New York Times best-selling series asks: What if Rapunzel’s mother drank a potion from the wrong flower? Desperate to save the life of their queen and her unborn child, the good people of Corona search for the all-healing Sundrop flower to cure her—but mistakenly acquire the shimmering Moondrop flower instead. Nonetheless it heals the queen, and she delivers a healthy baby girl with hair as silver and gray as the moon. With it comes dangerous magical powers: the power to hurt, not heal. For her safety and the safety of the kingdom, Rapunzel is locked in a tower and put under the care of powerful goodwife, Mother Gothel. For eighteen years Rapunzel stays locked away, knowing she must protect others from her magical hair. But when she leaves the only home she’s ever known, wanting only to see the floating lights that appear on her birthday, she gets caught up in an adventure across the kingdom with two thieves—a young woman named Gina, and Flynn Rider, a rogue on the run. Before she can reach her happy ending, Rapunzel learns that there may be more to her story, and her magical tresses, than she ever knew.

I love Tangled, and I was very interested to dive into What Once was Mine and to explore a different version of Rapunzel’s story. I was nervous as I started the book and realized that, in this story, Rapunzel’s hair has lethal powers rather than the healing ones it has in the movie. I was concerned that the kind, smart, goofy princess from the movie would be transformed into a violent and evil character. I am relieved that the Rapunzel in What Once was Mine remains kind and caring.

What Once was Mine uses a framing device where Brendan is telling his twin sister, Daniella, a story as she goes through cancer treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering. This feels appropriate because fairy tales are based in oral tradition. Daniella is also trapped by her illness just as Rapunzel is trapped in her tower and by the fear of her hair’s power. This framing also allows the reader into Brendan’s thoughts into how he is crafting the story, which I enjoyed.

Tangled is technically told through Flynn Rider’s perspective, but the audience remains very focused on Rapunzel and her point of view throughout the film. I loved that What Once was Mine addressed the points of view of many of the story’s characters. The queen doesn’t speak in Tangled, and it moved me to hear the story of a mother who made the devastating choice to send her daughter away.

Arianna still mourned the loss of her daughter and spent many sleepless nights in the last room where she saw her, one hand on her cradle. But her days were spent building the finest orphanages that anyone in the world had ever seen. She made sure there was enough food, clothes, and nurses to take adequate care of the kingdom’s motherless youngest.

I admired Arianna for choosing to turn her grief into an opportunity to help the orphans of her kingdom.

The book format also allows the reader to delve into Rapunzel’s innermost thoughts and feelings. The depth of Rapunzel’s loneliness before she leaves her tower is highlighted for the reader.

Of course humans can weather almost anything with love and companionship…and for the first time, Rapunzel was beginning to realize she might not actually have either.

Moments like this made me so happy when Rapunzel is finally able to build connection and relationships with Gina and Flynn because she finally makes the friends she always wanted.

The Rapunzel of Tangled is strong and smart, but I was consistenly struck by the development of the character in What Once was Mine into an independent, confident young woman.

I am not an object to be fought over, whether it’s as a wife or a weapon. I am a person.

It is clear that even though Mother Gothel spent Rapunzel’s childhood telling her that she is dangerous and that she can’t go out in the world, Rapunzel is still able to see her own worth.

As a fan of the movie, I enjoyed the little nods to Tangled in What Once was Mine. Mother Gothel makes a comment that “mother knows best,” which is a reference to the iconic song that Donna Murphy sings in the movie. There are also references to Flynn’s “smolder” and other similar references that grounded What Once was Mine in the same world as Tangled.

What Once was Mine has a darker tone than Tangled from Rapunzel’s hair with murderous powers to the bloodhungry villain, Countess Bathory. Even the framing story about a teenager with cancer adds to the book’s somber tone. This version of the story is more adult and feels more in line with the Grimm’s orginal fairy tales.

I highly recommend What Once was Mine especially to fans of Rapunzel and Tangled like me.

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