Title: Strands of Bronze and Gold
Author: Jane Nickerson
Genre: Fairy-tale retelling, historical fiction
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The Bluebeard fairy tale retold. . . .
When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.
Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.
Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.
I really enjoy fairy-tale retellings (who doesn't??), and I was really excited to read about a twist on the Bluebeard tale. Bluebeard is one of the more frightening fairy tales, so I was expecting something equally sinister and harrowing. Strands of Bronze and Gold was mildly creepy at best, and there was a lot about it that I didn't care for.
Sophia is a young girl who is taken in by her godfather once her father dies and leaves the family practically penniless. At first she is delighted by the exotic clothes and exquisite food; but soon she learns that M. de Cressac has a darker side to him, and she begins to wonder if she's safe here after all.
I can't put my finger on it, but there is something about the writing style that I didn't really like. I didn't think it flowed very well or fit the time period of pre-civil war America. It wasn't distracting enough to keep me from reading, but there was just something off about it.
The characters really bugged me. M. de Cressac was sufficiently creepy, and my skin crawled as soon as he'd appeared. But then nothing happened. I kept waiting for him to do something crazy and sinister but he just kind of loomed in the background. He's prone to mood swings, but even his worst moods weren't as bad as they could have been. Sophia was vain and silly, and I could hardly stand her. She is constantly thinking about and commenting on her clothing and others' clothing, and bothering about how low cut her dresses are and how a decent girl like her couldn't possibly wear such things. Also, her oh so diplomatic view on slavery was annoying. Obviously slavery is a terrible thing, and I'm not endorsing it, but for her upbringing, it was unusual that MC felt that slavery was so unfair (and she hardly sees any of the truly wretched stuff at all! She at one point pities the workers in the fields because of their shabby clothes, not because they are being worked to death or whipped). This wouldn't have been an issue if she didn't keep making a point out of it. It was as if I was being hammered over the head with how wonderful and good Sophie was.
This book also had a slavery-related subplot that I didn't think was necessary. For all the focus on the horrors of slavery, you rarely get to see that truly ugly side, and half the time the slaves are pitying dear old Sophie. I just couldn't understand why - it's not like Sophie's situation was worse than their own. Sure, Sophie is a "slave" to M. de Cressac's whims, but she is never physically hurt, and she has everything she wants and more.
And finally, the ending. Just when things start to get exciting, the climax is resolved very quickly and magical happy endings take over. It's not that I want all the characters to suffer, but I felt like this could have had a more tragic or at least bitter-sweet ending to fit the bluebeard mood.
I wouldn't recommend this particular retelling.