March 8, 2013 by Heidi
Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time!
Title: A Curse Dark as Gold [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Elizabeth C. Bunce [Website|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling
Published: November 1st, 2010 by Scholastic Audio (first published March 1st, 2008)
Format: Audio; 12 hr 30 min. Read by Charlotte Perry
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
This ravishing winner of the ALA’s William C. Morris YA Debut Award is a fairy tale, spun with a mystery, woven with a family story, and shot through with romance.
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.
Sometimes our worst fears are all in our head, but those are really the lucky times–it’s much, much worse when our worst fears are manifest. Charlotte Miller grew up hearing about the Curse of Stirwaters. A curse that was blamed for all of the ill luck that befell her family over the years–broken mill wheels, rivers changing course, the fact that no male Miller child had survived to inherit since the mill’s founding. But practical Charlotte Miller refuses to believe in such things, even when their ill luck creates insurmountable barriers to success and the only way out seems to be a bargain with a mysterious man who can spin gold from straw.
I love fairy tale retellings, particularly those that are so subtle and tackle the lesser-done fairy tales–in this case, Rumplestiltzkin. A reader may go in knowing the basic structure of the tale, but I assure you that in the case of A Curse Dark as Gold, you will not expect where it leads. Surprisingly, I found Elizabeth C. Bunce’s tale to be one of the most sinister and creepingly insideous I have read. We as readers feel the sharp panic and desperation of Charlotte as she is slowly backed into a corner, with every possible exit featuring a horrid reality.
Charlotte’s refusal to believe in anything save herself makes her at once a strong but hampered heroine. She continually reaches out to those in her life who, from the view of most, deserve no help or kindness, unable to believe the worst of anyone until it is laid bare at her feet. A young woman working in a time and place where only a man will be taken seriously by most, she scrapes and claws for every small victory throughout–however, it becomes all too obvious that small victories cannot outweigh huge defeats.
A Curse Dark as Gold was one of those incredibly divisive listens for me. I wanted so badly to see Charlotte, her family, and the people of Stirwaters overcome, but at the same time it was so hard to listen with that growing pit in my stomach each time some new and horrid event fell upon them. It is a book where the villains are as prolific as the goodhearted–you can feel them closing in from all directions while Charlotte refuses to lean on the support offered by family and friends. I loved Charlotte for wanting to protect everyone in her care, but I became so frustrated with her extreme practicality–the type that leads one to brush off help and love when they most need it because they are too proud, or convinced that others do not have the capacity to believe what they hardly believe themselves.
Elizabeth C. Bunce challenges a story we all know to be greater. She takes a tale where a name, Rumpelstiltskin, holds so much power, and turns it on its head. In the original tale, the woman who must give up her child isn’t even named. A story where a name means everything, and the woman we root for has none. Bunce refuses to settle for this, and instead infuses the entirety of A Curse Dark as Gold with wonderful, meaningful names that fit their bearers, right down to the Stirwater name placed on the wool they manufacture–a name that is something to covet throughout the land.
The greatest impact of A Curse Dark as Gold, however, was not a glorious cummupance, but a theme of forgiveness. I struggled very much with Charlotte’s continuinous nature of forgiveness. I love to see a villinous wretch get what’s coming to him, and this book offered oh so many chances, and yet Charlotte’s capacity to forgive provided a much more lasting impression than any vengeance could. Elizabeth C. Bunce chooses a route that isn’t popular (of which she is much aware given her note at the end), and yet, is so much more powerful. Her chioces helped to remind me of what it really means to love thy neighbor and turn the other cheek–that it is greater to forgive than to punish. I struggled to swallow this, but I love a book that challenges me to be a better person.
For the most part, I found Charlotte Perry’s narration of A Curse Dark as Gold to be spot-on. Her voice managed to capture the world, the fear, and the desperation of the Millers’ tale. Taking place in a world much like early-Industrial Revolution England, fans of historical novels will find themselves at home in the village of Stirwaters, with all of the charm and grating social customs such a setting entails. My greatest issue with the audio, however, is the way Perry has voiced Charlotte’s love interest, Randall. Quite frankly, she makes him sound like a poncy old man–more Old Fezziwig than Pip, and this made it very difficult to at any point be into their relationship. If the romance of a tale matters greatly to you, I recommend picking up A Curse Dark as Gold via print. Otherwise, it is wonderful on audio.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: I’d certainly love to read Bunce’s Thief Errant series–but first it has to finish! The publication future of the third book is up in the air at the moment, which always turns me off a series, but Nafiza does have a Twitition going for book 3.
Recommended for: Readers who enjoyed The Hollow Kingdom—I feel as if these could take place in the same world! Certainly Charlotte’s Uncle Wheeler and Kate’s guardian Hugh Roberts would be members of the same club.
Get a second opinion:
Angieville – “This is a dark, drafty, remarkably real tale and, like Jack Spinner, it will spin its golden thread around you.”
See Michelle Read – “Bunce’s prose is beautiful – a sense of sinister foreboding is felt with each groan and turn of the mill wheel, intensifying with each mysterious revelation.”
Steph Su Reads – “A CURSE DARK AS GOLD was actually too light on the Rumpelstiltskin retellings, rendering itself more just a supposedly spooky and tense story of desperation and redemption that turned out not to be my thing”