Based on the fairy tale Rapunzel, the story is told in alternating chapters from the point of view of Zel, her mother, and the nobleman who pursues her, and delves into the psychological motivations of each of the characters.
As she has done for The Frog Prince and Hansel and Gretel, Napoli here visits her magic upon the tale of Rapunzel, creating a work of depth and beauty. In mid-16th-century Switzerland, Zel, on the threshold of adolescence, accompanies her mother on a rare trip from their remote cottage to the village. By chance she meets a youth named Konrad; unknown to her, he is the son of the count, and he is charmed by her apparent simplicity and forthright manner. Napoli gently guides the reader through the inevitable consequences of this meeting, mining every movement in the fairy tale for its psychological treasures. Zel's mother, no longer a routine villainess, has sacrificed everything, even her soul, for the witchcraft that enables her to have a daughter; a desperate fear of Konrad's attentions drives her to imprison Zel in the famous tower. Isolated, Zel wavers between recognition of her mother's sacrifices and her own fury, and wanders into madness. Konrad, meanwhile, must discover the difference between love and obsession. Napoli imagines the precise quality of the mother's supernatural powers, the colors of the stones in Zel's tower, the rustle of the trees in the forest. But the genius of the novel lies not just in the details but in its breadth of vision. Its shiveringly romantic conclusion will leave readers spellbound. Ages 11-up. (Sept.)