Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Strands of Bronze and Gold - Jane Nickerson

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson
Genre: YA, fairytale retelling
Published on March 12, 2013
Published by Random House
Pages: 352
Read From: 4.10.13 - 4.12.13

When seventeen-year-old Sophie 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 anger of de Cressac's intoxicating world.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Yes, because it is a side profile, and the hair mostly covers the character impersonator's face. I also love the vines and the title font; very fairy tale-ish and pretty.

Characters: Sophia isn't the world's most sensible protagonist. She too quick to accept flattery, she is not wary enough, and too eager to please her godfather, even if it means foregoing her principles. But there is, regardless, something about Sophia that I liked. She's curious, likes antiques, and loves riches and pretty things, but she is not spoiled or selfish, and grateful for everything that Monsieur Bernard gives her. Despite her lack of wariness, when she finally begins to listen to the little voice inside her head that cautions her, she gains some sensibility, and she doesn't act the passive victim, but takes action. She is, at one point in the story, faced with a very difficult decision, and she makes very selfless sacrifices for her family. Gideon Stone, the love interest, isn't nearly in the story enough, but for what little time he is, I loved him. Gentlemanly, kind, friendly, funny, but slightly awkward - a combination that endeared him to me completely. The story doesn't allow him to take on a very heroic role, unfortunately, so he isn't my all-time favorite love interest out of all of the fairytale retellings I've read, but he definitely has it in him. Meanwhile, Monsieur Bernard - the "Bluebeard" of the retelling - is one creepy villain. He's the type of guy that if I met him on the street or in the library, I would be looking for my bear mace. Monsieur Bernard would get on famously with Ted Bundy. Like is not the word I would apply to Monsieur Bernard. Villains that I like, there is an element to them that if I didn't know they were evil, I could see me being good acquaintances with them. Monsieur Bernard isn't like that; he's just one hundred percent creepy. But that's not a complaint; this story needed a creepy villain like that, and he definitely gave me chills.

The Romance: Sophia's initial crush on her godfather, Monsieur Bernard, is rather disturbing, but I suspect it's supposed to be, and thankfully Sophia realizes that maybe Monsieur Bernard isn't as wonderful as she first thought. Her attachment to Gideon Stone seems a bit fast, because the Author doesn't write all that many scenes between them, though the Reader is assured that time has passed. Nevertheless, Gideon seemed like a good influence on Sophia, and Sophia deserved a good ending after all that happens to her. The romance, in short, is very sweet and fits the story.

Plot: Sophia's family is poor. Her eldest brother is in debt and both of her parents are dead. So it comes as an unexpected blessing when Sophia's mysterious and extremely generous godfather, Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, asks Sophia to come live with him as his ward in Mississippi. Wyndriven Abbey is a magnificent house, brought all the way from Britain stone by stone, and situated on a stunning estate. Sophia is immediately captivated by Monsieur Bernard, who is all kindness and generosity and fascinating, with his unusual tastes and fancies. But as Sophia spends more and more time at Wyndriven Abbey, she begins to suspect that there are secrets buried in its hundreds of rooms and hallways. Secrets that might shed some unpleasant light on her magnificently-rich and often short-tempered godfather, who seems to become more and more alarmingly possessive of her as times goes on. And who also seems to only want her because of the color of her hair. Before I delved into Strands of Bronze and Gold, I re-read the Bluebeard fairytale as a refresher. It's a fairytale that I haven't read very often, for it was never a favorite. It still isn't, but it did make for a very good and interesting retelling. The few small things the Author changed (like Sophia being confined to the estate) lent the book a much darker aspect, and the twists she did on the original story's elements were done very well. Knowing the Bluebeard tale takes a bit of the mystery out of story, since you will then know the general idea of how the story ends, but even with this knowledge, I still found myself captivated and often more than a little creeped out (in a good way). The plot's pace is, at first, a little sedate, as Sophia settles into her life at Wyndriven Abbey, but the anticipation of the promised mystery makes these first few chapters move quickly, and then we get into the heard of the story, which is thoroughly engaging and spooky. Of course,  the Reader knows not to trust Monsieur Bernard, which causes some frustration with Sophia, but it didn't take as long as I thought it would for Sophia to finally realize that things weren't right. At times, there were elements to the story's atmosphere, and even events which rather reminded me of Jane Eyre, and I liked that a lot.

Believability: The Author seems well-versed in the era's fashions, etiquette, and such things.

Writing Style: This is what made ratcheted my good opinion as high as it is. The writing style was beautiful. Absolutely stunning descriptions and pros, a captivating aura of mystery and suspense. Even the final showdown was genuinely exciting, and not just entertaining, and not ridiculously dragged out and dreadfully cliche. The dialogue is excellent, and I could feel Sophia's emotions as if they were my own.

Content: It's implied that Monsieur Bernard has molested one of his servants, and he at one point takes Sophia into a building that has deliberately lewd statues (pg. 304). However, there are no details in either case, and while Monsieur Bernard touches Sophia at times in suggestive manners, it never goes anywhere.

Conclusion: I was a little worried when the final showdown began. While this book isn't a horror story or a thriller, it shares some similarities, and so I was expecting a typical horror movie climax. In some respects, it is a little cliche, but it isn't ridiculously long and ends relatively fast. No one gets bashed to smithereens and then ends up still being alive about three different times. Strands of Bronze and Gold surprised me. I figured it would be entertaining at best, but not much more beyond that. I wasn't expecting beautiful writing, a truly creepy villain, and a surprisingly likable protagonist, despite a sad lack of sensibility. I have really high hopes for this Author's future books.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fifteen-and-up, fans of fairytale retellings and Gothic novels.

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