A Curse Dark as Gold

January 1st, 2009

A Curse Dark as Gold. What an intriguing title, and an intriuging read as well. I was curious about this book, because I knew it was a fantasy with the feel of historical fiction. My current project is historical fiction with fantasy elements, and I wanted to see how Elizabeth C. Bunce, the author, handled the fantasy/history combination and how the two melded in her book.

The setting is imaginary, as in most fantasies. However, it has the feel of an English village from long ago. In fact, Bunce, in her Author’s Note, says her fantasy world “…is strongly influenced by the real woolen industries of Britain and America during the early years of the Industrial Revolution (for our purposes, the late 1700′s).” Bunce’s novel shows a true understanding of not only the business end of running a mill, but a depth of knowledge about the machinery and even the cloth.

Although the book has been summarized in various reviews as the retelling of the old fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, the plot is much more complex and layered than that. Jack Spinner, the Rumpelstiltskin character, doesn’t make an appearance until p. 96, and in 392 pages, only shows up a few times. However, he is the one responsible, whether directly or indirectly (through her evil uncle), for most of the main character’s problems.

Bunce writes beautiful prose, with rich, descriptive language. She uses words and expressions suited to the time period, such as eldritch-had to look that one up. So it bothered me a little that we couldn’t just know the time period instead of having to guess at it.

Her main characters, two sisters named Charlotte and Rosie, take over the family woolen mill after their father’s death. Since he was a poor manager, they’re saddled with plenty of debt and no extra money to pay it off. It doesn’t help that the mill has had a curse placed on it, explaining all the ill luck over many generations. Or that Charlotte doesn’t believe in curses or any of the superstitions involving the mill. Enter Jack Spinner, who spins straw into golden thread, enabling the girls to pay down some of their debt.  Jack Spinner turns up again, and as in the fairy tale, demands a higher price each time he helps them.

Why did Charlotte stubbornly refuse to confide in her good and kind husband Randall, especially when her world was collapsing? He obviously loved her and did not understand her lack of trust in him. I didn’t either.

ALA recently announced that A Curse Dark as Gold has been nominated for the William C. Morris Award for a debut YA novel. This was certainly an impressive debut. I’m sure we’ll see a lot more from Elizabeth C. Bunce.

If you’ve read it, what did you think? Did you like it as well as Harry Potter? The Twilight Series?

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