Friday, January 3, 2014

Review: Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

Release Date: March 12, 2013
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Source: Purchased
Author Links: Website | Goodreads | Twitter

The 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.

Bluebeard has always been hands-down the creepiest fairy tale to me. I mean, the guy had an entire room chock full of dead wives! And they didn't pass away from old age or disease.
Then there was the new wife...
She's given a key to the room and told not to use it. Well, duh, of course she's gonna look!
And since she broke her promise to him...She must die!!!!
Alright, that's the really condensed version of the original, but you get the gist.

So Strands of Bronze and Gold is a retelling of that story. And to add to the creepy atmosphere, this one has a Gothic flavor to it. It's set in pre-Civil War Mississippi, and Bernard is a plantation owner, so slavery and the Underground Railroad play a part in the story as well. However, don't go into this expecting an accurate historical portrayal of either. It's just a side note in the plot to keep things interesting. As a retelling of Bluebeard, though, I thought it was a total win, and one of my new favorite retellings!
The complaints I've seen in other reviews seem to drift toward the fact that it's not a fast-paced book, there are too many descriptions of scenery and clothes, and that the heroine is a Mary Sue.
I'll give you my opinion of those three issues, and then you can decide if this is a book you'd like to read.
First off, the pacing was perfect for a book like this. There is a slow-building horror to the situation that Petheram finds herself in, and (I thought) it was done very well. She starts off hearing mild alarm bells, but ignores them until she finally hears the klaxon blaring. Of course, by then it's too late.
To me, that's not a slow story.
As far as the myriad of descriptions go? Eh. Petheram loves all the nice clothes and expensive gifts that Bernard gives her, and she's undeniably impressed with all of he wealth in her surroundings. It's part of the reason she ignores some of those initial early warning signs. However, by the end of the book, she realizes how foolish and easily taken in she was.
I'm not one of those readers who likes a lot of scenery written into the story. Give me enough to get the gist of the surroundings...and then move on. So will  you be annoyed by descriptions of dresses? No idea, but I didn't feel that the story was bogged down by overly descriptive writing.
Finally, is Petheram a Mary Sue?
Not within the confines of this kind of story. For the time period, for her age, and for what she was aware of, Pentheram was actually quite brave. There were several times she stood up for herself and others, but part of this story is about exposing the psychology behind abusive relationships. Bertram was in equal parts very charming and very violent. At first, he seems to be a very likable and handsome man, and his eccentricities seem benign. But as the story unfolds, she realizes that everything he does is a form of control designed to keep her submissive. And what can she actually do about it? In reality, how easy would it be for a  young woman of that time period to just up and leave her legal guardian's home?
Not very.
Naturally, as the reader, you know from the moment she pulls up in her carriage that she's about to enter the house of a serial killer. And it's also pretty easy to to scream and rant that YOU would have done something differently. However, as evidenced by women in today's society, there is something universal about the minds of abusers and victims. It happens every day, and not just to weak-willed women. I've watched formerly strong independent women get sucked into this kind of psychotic nightmare to varying degrees. The how and why are a lot simpler than people think.
It starts with something like a comment about how maybe 'your jeans don't fit the way they used to', that turns into comments about how 'no one else would ever want you because of the way you've let yourself go'. Or maybe it just starts with an innocent sounding question like, 'who were you just talking to on the phone?', that ends up over time turning into wild accusations like, 'I know you're cheating on me with whoever you were talking to!'. Verbal abuse is bad enough, but these kind of attitudes can quickly escalate into violence. One of the biggest problems with violent abusers is that they didn't just punch their girlfriend or wife in the face on the first date. See, if they had done that, there probably wouldn't have been a second date. Unfortunately, the violence comes after the woman is fully entrenched in the lie that she somehow needs him. And of course, the old standby that he loves her and it will never happen again.
It's easy for those of us in a healthy relationship to think that it couldn't happen to us, but the truth is, given the right circumstances, it could happen to anyone. Now, whether or not you decide to fight back and get the hell outta there if it does? Well, that's entirely up to you.
And that's what Pentheram's story is really about.


Abria said...

I think those three things would be deal-breakers for me. I'm glad you enjoyed it, though :)


I did, but that doesn't mean you would have. Glad you're not going to waste your time with it! It's stupid to think everyone will enjoy the same books. lol!

Neyra said...

this one sounds interesting despite it's 'slow-pace' setting. yeah, i'm not looking forward to discovering whether or not (in my eyes) Petheram is a Mary Sue, but i'm willing to give it a shot :)

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