Title: Strands of Bronze and Gold
Series: Strands (#1)
Author: Jane Nickerson
Genre: YA Historical, Fairytale Retellings
In short: gorgeous setting and a creative twist to the Bluebeard tale
Warning: mild spoilers
Goodreads: 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.
Strands of Bronze and Gold is a retelling of the Bluebeard tale set in the 1800s, in Mississippi. The story follows Sophie, an orphan, who leaves her siblings to live with her mysterious godfather. Monsieur de Cressac, said godfather, happens to be the most handsome man she’s ever laid eyes upon—which in itself was kind of creepy, seeing as how he’s her godfather. The book wastes no time in showing how Sophie’s affection for her guardian becomes an infatuation—no, really, most of my notes are CREEPY OH GOD!—but unfortunately, that’s pretty much all it does quickly.
Understandably, the story needs to show how Sophie comes to trust de Cressac (the equivalent of Bluebeard) but then becomes disillusioned with him afterwards. The first half still felt a little slow to me, with Sophie’s suspicions growing at an agonising rate. YA where the main character takes a long time to come to the same conclusions as the character tends to become really tedious—but then again, it’s not like Sophie knew de Cressac was a creep from the blurb. Still, that first half of j’adore! was starting to get painful, especially since de Cressac sounds very creepy 90% of the time.
“Your voice, the way you move, even your expression – as if you are thinking delightful, secret thoughts.”
Not only is he a grade A creeper, he’s also awfully misogynistic and controlling. He’s constantly telling Sophie what to do and what not to do. If I were her, I woulda run for the hills around a hundred pages in. Then again, Bluebeard is supposed to be misogynistic—reading de Cressac still made me furious.
The first half of the story is saved by the characterisation and the setting—Southern Gothic awesomeness. There’s a lot that irked me about it, like the unnecessary, groan-inducing Britishisms of the British housekeeper:
“You’re very welcome, I’m sure.”
I’m sorry, but that one sentence made me cringe.
Now the second half of the story, that’s where things pick up. Sophie starts sneaking out of the house, and spends a lot of time with a clergyman. She starts questioning de Cressac and finding out more about his wives on her own. Which is great—the transition from apparently helpless, awed girl to strong-heroine is apparent.
The problem? It’s done really choppily. It’s almost as if all the description and slow pace of the first half was used up, so the second half has more action and less development. Sophie falls in love with a certain someone (someone other than de Cressac, no worries) weirdly fast—there’s insta-love for you. Even the ending, while action-packed and edge-of-your-seat, left me sort of confused because Sophie never seems to consider the why of de Cressac’s behaviour. I understand if she wanted to put the whole ordeal behind her, realistically, but the author doesn’t explain what made this guy a psycho. We just have a few assumptions form Sophie which may well be true, but I felt like the conclusion lacked something concrete. It was a good story, certainly, but there were problems with the telling.
And coming to problems… in terms of slavery, this book seemed quite problematic. Obviously, no good character in the book supports slavery, but the servants fall so neatly into POC stereotypes. It was a daring idea to set the book in a time where those issues are so prominent, and I don’t think the author quite worked that out. Sophie is all against ill-treatment of de Cressac’s slaves, but her perspective is still off: she seems to empathise with them for all the wrong reasons. She’s envious of them because they can marry who they want—really? Her character wasn’t annoying except for the times she mentally preaches abolition—can anyone say white saviour? All the good white characters are uncomfortable at de Cressac’s horrible treatment of all his workers. Sophie and her twoo love in particular. It gets on your nerves, and it’s definitely enough to stop some people from reading it. And there’s the religiousness of it. Hmm.
All in all, I’d say it was a good concept, but a not-so-good execution, which is a problem I have with a lot of books. Sigh. I don’t think I’ll be reading the next in the series unless reviews can convince me otherwise.