It's unusual for fairy tales to be as grounded in history as SOLD FOR ENDLESS RUE is. It's a great blend of the realistic and the whimsical. In some ways, Rapunzel can be one of the most down-to-earth fairy tales, something that could actually happen...especially if the story occurred the way Madeleine E. Robins says it did.
SOLD FOR ENDLESS RUE is broken into three points of view and told over three generations. It begins with the tale of little Laura, a stolen child-turned slave who runs away into the arms of a village healer who will help her rise to become a great physician. Laura lives in 13th century Italy and trains at the Schola Medica Salernitana in a time when there are few women. She's looked at strangely and frowned upon by others. Laura ultimately becomes the "witch" of the story, only she's no witch. The middle segment tells the tale of why Laura chooses to take baby Bieta (Our Rapunzel) away from her parents and raise her, and the final segment is from Bieta's own POV.
All the women in the novel suffer in various ways. Laura has been through so much heartache and turmoil, betrayed again and again. She tries to make the world better and give Bieta every opportunity, but in doing so, she goes too far. The book celebrates women and mothers, but also focuses on the way people learn and change and grow. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Mistakes are always made, and in the moment, we can't always see them coming. It felt very honest and real.
Watching the story of Rapunzel play out in the later two-thirds of the novel, as grounded in reality as it is, was intriguing. One of my all-time favorite fairy tale retellings is Juliet Marillier's version of Beauty and the Beast, HEART'S BLOOD. In part, this is because it's grounded in reality and removes the magic that makes the story impossible. The impossible becomes possible. The same holds true for SOLD FOR ENDLESS RUE. While at times, I skimmed some of the medical stuff (simply because it's of little interest to me, personally), I love how much detail was paid to the time period, creating an immersive experience.
SOLD FOR ENDLESS RUE felt very traditional and very Rapunzel, even as it introduced new ideas and explained the "truth" behind the "witch's" motivations for all that she did in stealing and raising Rapunzel. So much of the fairy tale is still there, and I really enjoyed seeing the unique way Robins pulled it all together and created something new.