THE WILD GIRL by Kate Forsyth, Review: Beauty and nuance

The Wild Girl Synopsis

The Wild Girl by Kate ForsythDortchen Wild fell in love with Wilhelm Grimm the first time she saw him.

Growing up in the German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel in the early nineteenth century, Dortchen Wild is irresistibly drawn to the boy next door; the young and handsome fairy-tale scholar Wilhelm Grimm.

It is a time of war, tyranny and terror. Napolean Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hessen-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall. Forced to live under oppressive French rule, the Grimm brothers decide to save the old tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small all over the land.

Dortchen knows many beautiful old stories, such as ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Frog King’ and ‘Six Swans’. As she tells them to Wilhelm, their love blossoms. Yet the Grimm family is desperately poor, and Dortchen’s father has other plans for his daughter. Marriage is an impossible dream.

Dortchen can only hope that happy endings are not just the stuff of fairy tales… (From the book cover)

Disclosure: If you click a link in this post we may earn a small commission to help offset our running costs.


The Wild Girl is another novel from Kate Forsyth that is terribly difficult to do justice to in a review. Just as in her previous novel Bitter Greens, Forsyth delves much deeper into the origins of the fairytales we grew up with, adding her innate sensitivity and passion for people to produce a very adult tale. She acknowledges the greatest characters are often born from hardship, and does not shy away from the brutality of life, in all its forms.

Our heroine in this tale is the indomitable and passionate, Dortchen Wild. Her enduring love for her family, friends and country shines from every page.

The singular narrative structure employed in The Wild Girl interspersed with letters and fairytales from the Grimm collection, could have become pedestrian in the hands of a less talented author. The power of this novel’s characters and in turn that of the novel itself is inner strength and focus. Forsyth’s resolute focus on the plight of Dortchen Wild amidst the turmoil going on in Europe, and Dortchen’s unwavering dedication to the well being of those she cared about with selfless disregard for her own welfare. The character Dortchen is the antithesis of the frivolous and oppressive rulers of her town.

Dortchen’s love for Wilhelm had long since ceased to be a source of secret joy for her. It was a leaden weight, a never-easing ache. He still thought of her as a child, perhaps even as another sister, but Dortchen knew her love was just as intense and true as that of any woman. There were times when she longed to be free of the fetters that bound her to him, just as she longed to burst free of the chains of duty to her family. Yet, as they were invisible and incorporeal, there was no hammer that could break those chains, no key that could unlock the shackles.

Impeccably researched

Kate Forsyth’s dedication to researching the historical context for her novels is clear, but what turns this hard graft into something so memorable is the way she conveys that information to her audience. She uses a raft of subtle techniques such as conversations between characters, descriptions of setting and symbolism to arm the reader with all they need to connect with the story on an emotional level. Rarely do I read Afterwords, as I think they can detract from the memory of the fiction, but with Forsyth I make an exception.

I am ashamed to say I knew relatively little about the life of Napolean and European history more generally during the early 1800s. Although not necessarily its intended purpose, fiction such as The Wild Girl is the best history lesson you can find. From better understanding history we can better understand humanity.

In an interview with Random House (video below), when asked what her favourite word is (a tricky question for me, let alone an author), Kate answered, “Joy”.

The pursuit of joy is on display in The Wild Girl – strong female characters (and of course good old Wilhelm) striving to do what is right no matter the cost in the hope of bringing joy to others, and in doing so, perhaps earning the chance for a little joy some day for themselves…

I wholeheartedly recommend The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth, just as I did her previous book Bitter Greens. Do not be put off by the length of these novels – for all it’s beauty and nuance, Forsyth’s prose is effortless to read and her tales ultimately uplifting.

UPDATE: Kate has subsequently written, and we’ve very much enjoyed the novels The Beast’s Garden and Beauty in Thorns.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5  — Overall 4.75

Get your copy of The Wild Girl from:

Amazon Bookshop US Booktopia AU
OR listen to the audiobook FREE with Audible’s Trial (check eligibility)


Australian Literature Month 2013

Genre: Fantasy, Historical, Romance, Drama

* The review counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge, Australian Women’s Writers Challenge and Australian Literature Month @ Reading Matters.

Author Information: Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of more than twenty books, including The Witches of Eileanan and Rhiannon’s Ride series for adults, and The Puzzle Ring, The Gypsy Crown, and The Starthorn Tree for children. She has won or been nominated for numerous awards. Her books have been published in 13 different countries, including Japan, Poland, Spain and Turkey, and Kate is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairytale retellings at the University of Technology and recently published Bitter Greens a retelling of the Rapunzel story.

– Kate Forsyth is prolific blogger too, check out her website

– Read another teaser from The Wild Girl, and a free sample chapter

* Receiving this title free from the author did not impact my ability to express my honest opinions in the review above.