Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review: A Curse Dark as Gold

by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Age Recommendation: Young Adult
Hardcover, 396 pages
Published March 1st 2008 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Series: none

Summary (from Goodreads)
Charlotte Miller has always scoffed at talk of a curse on her family's woolen mill, which holds her beloved small town together. But after her father's death, the bad luck piles up: departing workers, impossible debts, an overbearing uncle. Then a stranger named Jack Spinner offers a tempting proposition: He can turn straw into gold thread, for the small price of her mother's ring. As Charlotte is drawn deeper into her bargains with Spinner-and a romance with the local banker-she must unravel the truth of the curse on the mill and save the community she's always called home.

My Review
A Curse Dark as Gold was the perfect historical fantasy. Although historical fantasy is a genre I enjoy, it's not one I read much of, and this one incorporated so many elements that I enjoyed. The story begins just after the death of Charlotte's father, leaving Charlotte and her sister Rosie to take over responsibility for the family mill, called Stirwaters. Although they do their best, whispers of a curse on Stirwaters begin to circulate as, through bad luck, everything seems to be coming apart.

It started out a little slow, but as I found out later, the slow beginning was just what the story needed in order to build up the tension of the later parts. Charlotte's world is based very firmly in a historical setting, and the magic is introduced so slowly that it doesn't seem to intrude upon the real world. Bunce takes the beginning to set up the world and really let the reader meet the characters and understand them before introducing the fantastical elements.

The setting for A Curse Dark as gold is highly historical, taking place on the cusp of the industrial revolution, and the characters fit right into the world. Bunce writes her characters wonderfully. I felt as if I knew everyone in Shearing (the town), and even the villain was a shade of gray (albeit a darker shade). The characters stay with you, almost as if they glide out of the book and follow you noiselessly around.

Charlotte, as the main character, was most developed of all. I could almost hear her voice in my head, and she passed Small Review's WWMCD (What Would Main Character Do) test nearly every time. Although Charlotte's stubbornness was a little frustrating to read of at times, I grew to love her character - and everyone around her. I even found sympathy for a few characters I was not expecting to care about in the least. But with Charlotte especially, I felt like I knew her so well that I could easily be her friend outside of the book.

And Randall – Randall was wonderful. He's the kind of character one might dismiss, but is really holding the story together. Without Randall, Charlotte would have fallen apart, as she herself admits. He is so unassuming and obviously loves Charlotte so much. It was a pleasant surprise to see how fond I'd grown of him.

The plot of A Curse Dark as Gold was surprisingly complex. I was expecting a straightforward retelling in a historical setting, and I got so much more than that. The story stands on its own far beyond the tale it's based on. All of the subplots that, although intriguing, seem unconnected come together to create a complex and tightly woven story (pun not intended) that all fits together in unexpected ways.

Overall Thoughts: Surprising and wonderful. The historical element adds an extra layer of richness, and the characters are strong and real. I'd happily read this again, and I've added it to my list of wonderful fairy tale retellings.

4 comments:

SusieBookworm (Susanna) said...

I've seen this on the shelf at my local library and will have to pick it up now. Retellings can be hit-and-miss sometimes, but this one looks like one of the great ones.

Pica said...

It was not the best retelling I've ever read, but it was very well-written and the strong historical setting gave it a fresh take from the usual "once upon a time." I hope you like it!

Small Review said...

It sounds like this really is a gem of a book. It seems like there are so many different layers (historical, fairy tale, characters, magic) all mixed together so they complement and enhance the story. I can't wait to read it!

I really liked how Elizabeth Bunce did the characters in StarCrossed. It sounds like they are similarly crafted here. Yay for using my WWMCD test! I know JUST the kind of character depth you mean now :)

Pica said...

After finishing A Curse Dark as Gold, I'm even more excited to read StarCrossed. And I think you will love A Curse Dark as Gold, Small!

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