Strands of Bronze and Gold (Jane Nickerson)

Strands of Bronze and GoldStrands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

*This book is scheduled for publication in March 2013.

From Goodreads: "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."

Part of the inherent struggle in writing an adaptation of a fairy tale is that you have to contend with well-read people who are familiar with said fairy tale and are reading with that tale in mind. Sometimes this works out really well, as readers might tease out similarities and note with surprise the twists that an author has chosen to take. In other cases, unfortunately, adaptations fall flat.

Strands of Bronze and Gold is a book that for me, fell a little flat. Since I knew the Bluebeard story before starting this book, my every reading moment in the first 150 pages or so was not spent empathizing with Sophie or enveloping myself in the world that Nickerson created--instead, it was spent screaming at Sophie to GET AWAY IMMEDIATELY. RIGHT NOW. It was a struggle to connect with her because all I wanted was for her to look up and see the danger lurking in every corner of de Cressac's house.

That being said, I warmed up to the story considerably once Sophie was finally on the same page as far as EVIL DE CRESSAC went, since I stopped thinking of her as (mostly) an idiot.

As far as setting goes, I did wonder about Nickerson's decision to situate the story in the South in 1855. While the physical setting was deftly evoked, the slaves seemed more like window dressing than actual characters to me. Their largest purpose appeared to be to show Sophie's compassion and understanding, to enable Sophie to get a few "Yay Sophie!" fist-pumps when she expresses a desire to help them escape to the North. Even the one African American who stands outside the system of slavery, Anarchy, doesn't read as a fully developed character--she's just there to fulfill the Magical Negro stereotype by providing homegrown, wise-woman counsel. Long story short, I wish that this had been handled better.

All told, Strands of Bronze and Gold is an interesting (though flawed) addition to the recent cadre of fairy tale reimaginings.

*I received an e-galley of this book for review.

Spoilers under the cut...

I can't deny that my heart ached just a little when Sophie made the decision to sacrifice herself for her family, and even the washed-out Mr. Stone grew on me as the book progressed. I even cheered for her during the final confrontation with de Cressac, although I did wish that she had taken the final swing and killed him herself.