Strands of Bronze and Gold
Author: Jane Nickerson
Publisher: Albert A Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House Children’s Books
Source: eARC requested through Netgalley
Publication Date: March 12, 2013 (tomorrow!)
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
17-year-old Sophia Petheram has been sheltered by her doting family all her life, until the day her father dies. It’s 1855, and with no money and few options, she goes to live with her guardian, the mysterious Bernard de Cressac, at the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey in 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 woven around her. And when she begins glimpsing the ghosts of his former wives (all with hair as red as her own) in the forgotten corners and dark hallways of the Abbey, Sophie knows she’s in de Cressac’s trap.
With enchanting romance, chilling suspense, and dashes of the supernatural, Strands of Bronze and Gold is a compulsively-readable debut.
So, truth: I didn’t know anything about the Bluebeard fairy tale when I requested this book. I liked the sounds of a fairy tale retelling, I liked the title and the cover, and I thought it would be a pretty cool historical novel. And it is. But man, this was WAY creepier than I expected.
For me, this book started a little too slowly. It had too much description and not enough plot. The suspense was definitely built up, so much so that I found it hard to get into for the first hundred pages or so. Sophie just kept talking about the grounds and the setting and spent a lot of time listing the zillions of gorgeous things around her. While I understand that the author was trying to build up the scene and the suspense, and that the overkill on the words and lists of things followed the opulence and too-much-ness of the place itself, I was like, “Please, something just HAPPEN.”
I only really started to get into this book around page 150, which I feel is too late to be capturing a reader’s attention. That said, once I did get into it and the story started to move, I was quite engrossed. Sophie is a little bit too much of a swoony, fainty girl at the beginning, but she ends up being pretty sassy for a girl in the 1850s, and I appreciated that her “feminine curiosity” (M. Bernard’s words) kept uncovering cool things about de Cressac’s history. I liked that de Cressac was a complex character who really made Sophie question her own ideas of what was right, and that the secondary characters were all questioning that as well.
Just to warn you, the book takes place in the South just before the American Civil War, so there’s a lot of talk about slavery and whether it’s right or tolerable. Coming from a 21st century perspective, I think it’s hard to disagree with the author’s slant here, but I did feel like Sophie and her family’s views were maybe a little progressive for the time period.
The other thing that bothered me was that I never believed that de Cressac was THAT attractive. I did believe he was charismatic enough to get Sophie to do anything he wanted at first, and powerful and wealthy enough to get Sophie to think she was in love with him. But Sophie kept on talking about him as a super-hot older guy with earrings and a blue beard, and all I could think of was this:
|Sorry, George, but this ain’t hot.|
No spoilers, but the back third of this novel is what saved it for me. I raced through the last hundred pages, needing to know how Sophie would get herself out of a pretty horrific predicament. Add to that the SUPER CREEPY turn of things at the end, and you have one scary novel. I was a little afraid to go to bed last night.
At its heart, Strands of Bronze and Gold tells a very disturbing and important tale about emotional abuse and what makes an unhealthy relationship. I really appreciated that part of the novel – it was a little heavy-handed, but I really felt that it brought home the idea that the guy you want to be with is NOT the Byronic hero. Girls, you don’t want a Mr. Rochester or a Heathcliff (or Edward Cullen). You don’t want the guy who’s unstable and can explode at every turn and won’t let you speak your mind. You want the guy who’s sweet, who has conversations with you, and who wants you to be the strong person that you are. (Want more on this? See my post “Let’s Hear It For the Good Boys!“)
Frocks: man, Sophie gets a LOT of gorgeous dresses in this novel. And gorgeous jewels. And basically tons of pretty things. The fact that everything feels like it’s too tight or too heavy on her just adds to the Gothic atmosphere of the novel.
The creeps: If you’ve read or heard the original Bluebeard fairy tale, I think you’ll know that this book is pretty gruesome. As I mentioned, the ending is both awesome and disturbing.
The Final Word
Strands of Bronze and Gold will really appeal to fans of historical and Gothic horror, as well as people who like a lot of suspense in their novels. Think the Brontes or Frankenstein. It’s satisfyingly scary, but it also has a pretty strong female heroine and a good message.