Fairy Tale retellings are my weakness. I will read them no matter what. I often get tired of reading the same old stories done over and over. So when Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson came along and I found it was a retelling of the Bluebeard tale I was super excited. Not only is that far from over done, but what a fantastically creepy story to transform into a novel.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
I would love to hear the opinion of someone who didn't know the Bluebeard tale going in. I think it will make a huge difference in how the reader responds and reacts to the book. Knowing the story I felt incredibly frustrated with the pacing. The first half was hard to get into and the pacing had a lot to do with that. It took a long time for anything of true significance to happen. This story comes with quite a lot of set up. Even once things picked up a bit it still took forever to get to the point. It was only 30 pages from the end (I read an e-galley) that Sophie makes THE DISCOVERY. And then it was another 10 pages or so before the climatic confrontation making the end incredibly rushed.
Bernard is a spectacularly creepy villain and I do think that this is the main strength of the novel. How he treats Sophie, the way he weaves his web around her, how he pulls her in was so well done. There are some scenes that are stomach turning repulsive and unpleasant to read. I often found myself wanting to stop because I simply felt like I was being suffocated in the same way Sophie is. The sense of doom Nickerson creates is a credit to her. Knowing the story I was a bit impatient with Sophie at times wanting her to figure out something was off faster, but one has to make allowances for the fact that she is so young and innocent.
Overall I'm torn on this one. I can't say I enjoyed it but, other than the pacing, it is well done. I think young teenage me would have loved it-the Gothic horror of it, the atmosphere, the suspense. All of that is well done. Knowing the world better-being the mother of a young daughter changes my perspective somewhat and mostly it just made me entirely too sad and uncomfortable. I do appreciate that Nickerson has written such an authentic story.
Content Warning: Bernard is an old lecher. He presses unwanted, and at one point violent, physical touches on Sophie. This book may be a trigger for any who have experienced sexual abuse or assault.
I read a galley of this provided by the publisher via NetGalley. Strands of Bronze and Gold is available for purchase on March 12.