Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

Title: Strands of Bronze and Gold
Author: Jane Nickerson
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: March 12, 2013
Pages: 352 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

Strands of Bronze and GoldThe 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.


Before I read this, "Bluebeard" was a mystery to me, so I did what I do and read the famous fairy tale. That may have been a mistake. Strands of Bronze and Gold needs to go the extra mile thanks to the tale it is based on, but it never mkes up for readers knowing how the great mystery of the novel turns out. Nickerson succeeds in tapping into the dark horror of the original tale, especially toward the end, but those moments are few and far between.

Blubeard's (here, Bernard de Cressac) characterization and the novel's lovely, Gothic style are two of its few strong points. The first chapter's lovely writing had me and though I wavered thanks to the novel's many other issues, I never stopped loving the writing. As it goes on, the elements of Gothic stories we all love so much, like ghosts who may or may not be real and secrets hidden in a massive manor, take greater and greater precedence. M. de Cressac is appropriately creepy and layered too, showing times of weakness and humanity despite who he is: the monstrous Bluebeard. If only Sophie and the other characters were as strongly established.

The writing can only carry one so far on its own, though. The characters aren't dynamic enough to keep readers going, nor is the plot enchanting enough. Sophia's days are spent exploring the house, getting creeped out by her godfather, wandering the woods (and meeting a boy a few times before that gets nipped in the bud), and other such dull things. I nearly DNFed this novel multiple times because so little was happening and the Gothic elements didn't become well-developed until the latter portions of the novel.

Taking place in 1855 Mississippi as it does, there are plenty of slaves on M. de Cressac's plantation, and Sophia meets more than a few of them. She has the right ideas about slavery (it's wrong, she wants to help them escape, etc.), but the slaves only serve to show off how compassionate and right-minded she is on the issue. While exploring the forest, she meets a wise old black woman named Anarchy who gives her advice. The only other purpose she serves is to let Sophia interact with someone new. That's really... Yeah.

It's a shame my first read of 2013 is such a disappointment, especially since I've been anticipating it for some time. Nickerson will have two more novels set in this world, but I don't think I'll be reading them. This might be a novel only those unfamiliar with "Bluebeard" or able to put it out of mind will enjoy.

2 stars!

What am I reading next?: On Demon Wings by Karina Halle