Mother Knows Best: A Tale of the Old Witch By Serena Valentino

By this point in the villain’s series a reader could be forgiven for thinking that they know what to expect from Serena Valentino. We know the style of the cover art; we know the premise behind the novel and we know that those weird sisters will be involved: all Serena can surprise us with now is her villain choice: right?

Wrong!

I have the upmost of respect for Serena Valentino. I wish I had as much creativity as she has in her pinky! But, honestly, I didn’t think she could surprise me with Mother Gothel: surely after the rollercoaster of emotions she took us through with Maleficent, Gothel’s tale will be a “filler”; a backstory on how she had been wronged by the Royal Family at one time and the theft of her magical flower was the final straw? After all, we know Gothel don’t we? She went to the Beast’s school of Stockholm syndrome and is only motivated by vanity: right?

Wrong!

Mother Knows Best introduces us to Gothel as a child, living in the Dead Forest with her family. Gothel’s mother Manea is the dreaded Queen of the Dead: a powerful witch with a skeleton army of minions at her disposal.

Her three daughters, however, have no powers and are a constant disappointment to their mother. Although the three sisters could not be more different, they have an extraordinary amount of love for each other: Hazel is thoughtful and kind, Primrose is emotional and colourful whilst Gothel is bookish and focused on taking over her mother’s duties one day.

There isn’t much I can say about the fate of these three sisters without ruining the plot for you but I will say this: if you have any heart at all Valentino is guaranteed to pull so hard on those strings -and that is all down to these three girls. Gothel’s lack of maternal warmth towards Rapunzel in the Disney movie is clearly as a direct result of her treatment by her own mother but I truly believe she could have been spared her fate if her siblings were by her side. The strength of the love between these sisters can overcome any obstacle: you truly believe that up until the very end.

A word of warning about this particular villain’s tale- it is proper creepy man! Definitely proof read this before giving to younger children. This was the first villain’s tale I partly listened to on audio book and …

OH

MY

DISNEY

… the children in the forest?! Blergh! I seriously had to have a couple of day’s break from the book. I don’t know if it is because I am a mother or because it was creepier on audiobook but BLERGH. I may be truly haunted by that part.

Naturally the odd sisters weave their way into this tale: which takes place before and after Maleficent’s story. I’ve made no secret of the fact that the sisters often distract me from the history of the villain in question and in some of Valentino’s novels I have found them unnecessary. With this in mind, I am even going to surprise myself by saying that I didn’t feel this way towards them in Mother Knows Best. The creepy triplets had a real purpose this time! Granted, you still have a very uneasy sense that they cannot be trusted all the way through the book but this is part of Valentino’s artistry. I genuinely found myself thinking “they’re helping”, “no they’re up to something” from beginning to end.

The underlying story of the Odd Sisters does advance a little with Circe’s involvement towards the end and revelations are made, both as to the sisters’ intentions and to Gothel’s past. However, credit where credit is due: the majority of this tale is actually about Gothel herself! Even more surprisingly, you will actually feel sorry for her when you learn of her motives behind keeping herself young.

Mother Knows Best is a haunting yet heartbreaking history of a villain whom we think we already know but find ourselves empathising with.

Serena Valentino has developed the old witch into an incredibly complex character who faces grief; isolation and moral challenges in order to keep the thing she loves (and that ain’t her youthful good looks!). This tale follows Gothel from her childhood to her demise in the tower, taking quick detours into humour and revelation of questions you didn’t know you had…

…how did Rapunzel get so much done in one day?

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