Friday, October 7, 2011
Review: A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
When her father dies, it is up to Charlotte Miller to carry the dying Miller tradition of running the Stirwaters Mill, which many believe is cursed. Things repaired one day fall apart again the next, and mysterious accidents befall workers. Practically minded Charlotte refuses to court such superstitious notions, but with the arrival of a pushy uncle and the incidents that thwart her attempts to ward off those who pressure her for money owed, she is forced to become involved in things beyond her understanding. As Charlotte delves deeper in order to unravel the mystery of the curse on Stirwaters, little does she realize how much is at stake.
I always look forward to fairy tale retellings, and with this one winning the Morris Award for Best Debut YA, I eagerly picked up A CURSE DARK AS GOLD after two years of having this in my TBR pile. Unfortunately, it was pretty much an all-around disappointment, and in rather unexpected ways: for some reason, the way the story was written, and the way it unfolded, really frustrated and repelled me.
A CURSE DARK AS GOLD theoretically had all the elements I like in a story: a unique spin on a fairy tale, a strong female protagonist, and a compelling plot with only the subtly appreciated undertones of romance. However, I wasn’t far into the book before the way the story was playing out began to irk me. Charlotte’s vehement insistence that there was no such thing as a curse soon characterized her as blindly stubborn to me: I like my fair share of headstrong and independent females, but not when they are stubborn in a maddeningly close-minded way. Hints about the malignance of the curse were dropped in the book from here to kingdom come, but it was not until the last fifth of the book that things began to be explained, and I can’t help but think that all stories that are carried forward by the “mysterious and pervasive influence” of a “shocking secret” are kind of gimmicky. The absolute lack of forward progression in the plot regarding the understanding of Stirwaters, the Miller history, and the curse made me so frustrated that I was tempted to put the book down forever and not bother to find out how it ended.
As Charlotte insisted on pulling away from her loved ones in a misguided effort to protect everyone and shoulder the burden herself, I just couldn’t bring myself to empathize with her decisions. There’s a difference between being admirably independent and dumbly mule-headed, and I’m afraid that Charlotte fell on the wrong side of that line.
All in all, A CURSE DARK AS GOLD was actually too light on the Rumpelstiltskin retellings, rendering itself more just a supposedly spooky and tense story of desperation and redemption that turned out not to be my thing, mainly because of my dislike of the main character for her mule-headedness and the way the plot unfolded. These criticisms I have, of course, are far more subjective than my usual ones, and so if you think that these two points won’t bother you as much as they did me, then I encourage you to give this award-winning book a try. Many important people obviously thought it was a great work, so there is the likelihood that I am in the minority on this one.
Cover discussion: Simple, but the careful attention to focus--the image is sharpest on the threads in her hands--makes this cover an arresting one for me.
Scholastic / May 1, 2010 (reprint) / Paperback / 400pp. / $9.99