What Once Was Mine by Liz Braswell

What if Rapunzel’s mother drank a potion from the wrong flower?

As you will all know by now, I am in love with the Twisted Tales series and have to read each installment as they are released. What Once was Mine is the 12th Twisted Tale book and the 7th written by Liz Braswell so to say I was excited would be an understatement.

As always, TT books come with a tag line to lure you in and this one is “What if Rapunzel’s mother drank a potion from the wrong flower?” Yes, instead of the golden Sundrop flower, the ailing pregnant queen is mistakenly given a potion using the Moondrop flower, resulting in a silver-haired princess whose power kills rather than heals!

Of course, that casts the whole locking the princess in a tower concept into an entirely new light! However, many of the other elements remain the same as Disney’s ‘Tangled’ movie: Gothel is Rapunzel’s captor and “mother”, Flynn steals a crown and is on the run from the Stabbington brothers and Rapunzel is desperate to see the floating lights.

What Liz Braswell manages to do (very well, in my opinion) is to maintain all these similarities, keeping her readers rooted to the original story but also to bend the original fairytale into something a bit more mature, a bit darker and, in some cases, a bit more real.  

“The truth about you is all tangled, like your braids, Rapunzel”

What Once was Mine is written from Rapunzel’s perspective. Now, this may be an obvious choice, but it also gives Braswell the opportunity to show her protagonist in a slightly more mature light than we are used to. Yes, Rapunzel is scatty, enthusiastic and teeth-grittingly cheerful about everything but she also believes she is dangerous and that she belongs in the tower for the safety of others.

Rapunzel has always been told that her hair killed her parents and that Gothel has been charged with her care and protection. However, what I really enjoyed about Braswell’s Rapunzel is that, although she begins with the same blind faith in Gothel as she has in the movie, she soon develops an inner turmoil of emotions with regards to her captor, questioning where she spends her days and recognising the little digs often made at the daughter’s expense.

As her journey continues, Rapunzel observes other mother-daughter relationships and her doubt and distrust of Gothel begins to build as a result. Lords, ladies and bandits alike are hunting for Rapunzel in order to claim her as their prize but this couldn’t be orchestrated by her mother, the only family she has ever known, could it?  

“Begin your nineteenth year by forgiving yourself, Rapunzel. That’s a far better gift than floating lanterns.”

I have conflicting feelings when it comes to the darker elements of What Once Was Mine. The inclusion of the very real Countess Bathory took me by surprise and was quite gruesome in places: not a problem for a grown-up Disney nerd but I’m not sure whether I will be passing this one along to the Mini Bookworm any time soon.

There is also the narrator of the story: a brother making up an alternative Rapunzel story for his sister while she is undergoing chemo. I understand this is an emotive topic for the author and I almost got it as a tool for the story-telling, enabling the use of quite modern, colloquial terms such as “murderhair” and enabling the creative inclusion of characters such as Maximus.

I really wanted this technique to be profound and make the story mean more, such as fairytales having an important place in the modern world for example. Unfortunately, it fell a little flat for me: it was an interesting tweak but it didn’t make me feel as much as I wanted it to.

It is not all doom and gloom though, Rapunzel’s perspective of the world provides comic moments: her (limited) knowledge of the world comes from the 37 books that she owns, leading to a moose that is definitely a squirrel and a cat which acts suspiciously like a fox. We are also not deprived of the regulars of The Snuggly Duckling, indeed all of your favourites from the film turn up for this novel.

Braswell’s characterisation when it came to Flynn was spot on in my opinion. The observation by Rapunzel that there is the “real” Flynn and then there is the charming, roguish mask he uses was perfect! Gina was also a great addition, desperately trying to be an adventurer/criminal and not being taken seriously just because she is a girl. The relationship between her and Flynn was adorable and, of course, Gina’s mother is just legendary.

“She wasn’t chasing distant lights; she was pursuing an unrealized dream of normalcy”

The writing style isn’t for everyone and, I must admit, this is the twisted tale which I have probably put down and walked away from the most. However, if you can stick it through the slow sections the story is really worth it and provides a much-admired evolution of the Disney Princess.

Don’t get me wrong – in the animated movie Rapunzel is great and all but by the end she is a princess with a haircut and a smouldering husband. Braswell’s Rapunzel has magic that she needs to study, understand and control, she is a future Queen in the making and simply has more of a purpose than her animated counterpart.

“She had power and will and a stubborn disposition”

What Once Was Mine brings a whole new depth to the characters of Disney’s Tangled. It gives us a new (frankly, disgusting) villain alongside all our favourite characters and definitely presents a creative twist on the traditional story. Don’t worry, Rapunzel still gets her Happily Ever After, but she fought a little harder for it this time around!

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