Monday, December 3, 2012

A Curse Dark as Gold

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

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.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Having just come off a historical farm recreation documentary binge (hey, it's a thing! Check out Tales from the Green Valley, Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, and Wartime Farm, or the similar but less agricultural Victorian Pharmacy or, maybe the best place to start, 1900 House for some entertaining but educational tv about bygone crafts and ways of life), I was thrilled to find a fairytale reimagining dealing so heavily with the intricate workings of a small mill town in the 18th century. So much of this book is spent describing the workings of the mill, the roles of the workers, and how wool goes from sheep to gown- but in an interesting way! If you're a bit odd and fancy that sort of thing, that is...

Anyway, even for those of you who don't get a bit fixated on spinning terms, period language and scenery, there's still a very compelling story of a young woman working to save her family business, protect herself and others from various machinations (worldly and otherworldly), plus some lovely and memorable characters to boot. I liked the village midwife with her herbs, eldritch knowledge, and unflappable good sense. I really liked the eccentric old dyeing master. I rooted for Charlotte's feisty sister, Rosie, and for Harte, steadfast and reliable. Most of all though, I loved the love interest, Mr Woodstone. He's a bit like a (capable/sensible) Mr. Bingley. All warmth and charm and good intentions, plus a wiser head on his shoulders. As for Charlotte herself... I respected her and admired her perseverance and heart, but she has a knack for misunderstanding the words and intentions of those around her rivaled only by Katniss Everdeen. She makes a few several decisions I didn't agree with, but even then they were (mostly) understandable from her point of view. 

As with the best fairytale retellings, Bunce fleshed out the original well, and added twists that mesh will with both the original and her version. After reading her author's note, I was even more impressed. 

For Anglophiles, history buffs and fairytale fans.


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