Review: Strands of Bronze and Gold

Author: Jane Nickerson
Series: Strands of Bronze and Gold #1
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Reading Level: Young Adult, 14+
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
Source: From Publisher for Review
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.
~*~Lili's Reflections~*~

Imagine having an extreme preference for a physical feature. This isn't an uncommon occurrence. I like height. I won't date a guy unless he's taller than me and will remain taller than me if I'm in heels. It's a physical trait I find attractive. Some men will only date shorter, petite women. Some people have a fascination with individuals of a certain nationality. Some people prefer tan skin opposed to pale skin. And some people are suckers for blue and green eyes guilty as charged. Well, Monsieur Bernard de Cressac is fascinated by beautiful red hair--shining strands of bronze and gold. But what if a simple fascination morphs into a sinister obsession? Well, that's what happens in the breathtaking and chilling debut novel, Strands of Bronze and Gold. An amazing debut, this fairytale re-telling will send shivers down your spine as you flip the pages eagerly to see just what will happen next.

One of the things I greatly enjoyed about this novel was that it differentiates from the original tale, but stays true to it in its own form. I have read the original Bluebeard tale prior to reading this debut. It was many years ago and I can't say I remember much of it, just the general gist of it. A serial killer killed a certain type of victim, there was a forbidden room, and a big heaping dose of creepiness that made my skin crawl. So, while this novel is somewhat true to the original tale, this novel can stand on its own. People with no knowledge of the original tale can easily infer things from reading and come up with their own theories to this wonderfully twisted mystery and those who have read the original tale can find certain links between both and be fascinated by this unique betrayal. The setting, for example, is Mississippi in the time of slavery before the Civil War. It differs greatly from the original tale and allows for some very interesting sub-plots. However, those expecting the direct equivalent of the Bluebeard fairy-tale may be disappointed in the creep-factor of this novel. Though admittedly creepy, my skin was not crawling as much as it was during the original tale.

Clearly, I enjoyed the setting. The pre-Civil War south was a time of preaching, of silent rebellions by the slaves, and of prejudice against people of a different skin color. When Sophia went to mysterious Wyndriven Abbey, she gave us a gateway to politics and unique thought that served as a great back-drop to Bernard's creepiness. The free beliefs of the Northern Yankees contrasted greatly with the Southern slave-owners and the mention of the Underground Railroad. That part of the novel as well as the interactions with the slaves will be amazing for history buffs like myself.

But, in all truthfulness, I have to say that the best part of this novel was the characters. Without such amazing characterization, the mystery wouldn't have been as compelling. Sophia was a very strong heroine, willing to sacrifice everything and marry a villainous man to protect her family and their mounting financial issues despite her tender age of seventeen. She was bright and very clever, finding ways to ward of his advances, and he often befriended the proper people, though slightly unexpected. However, I have to admit that she was slightly clueless when it came to the overall scheme of things. While she could sense danger and chose to deal with it in her own ways, she was oblivious to things that the reader could easily infer and only realized certain plot twists once it was too late. It took the leading lady quite some time to figure out happenings that we, as readers, realized about a third into the book. Otherwise, as a girl who is the same age as our heroine, I loved her dearly and valued her characterization immensely. It is rare to happen upon a teenage heroine that is so selfless and willing to protect others at her own expense. She is the type of sister and companion that should be written about more often.

And then there is Monsieur Bernard de Cressac. From their initial meeting, you can immediately tell that this guy is creepy, though his initial interest in Sophia was attributed to foreign customs of over-affection and a desire to get to know his long-lost godaughter. The extent of his creepiness is not truly revealed until the last fourth of the book where the underlying tension of mounting doom explodes into several chilling realizations all at once that will leave you with your mouth agape. It is hard to sort out Bernard's loneliness from the passing of his previous four wives (also red-heads) and his overwhelming need to be in control of everything. This madman's desire for control and cunning intelligence makes the novel and Wyndriven Abbey itself have an air quite sinister that draws a reader in and makes it impossible to let go. Though incredibly vile, he can go down in the history books among the most twisted of young adult villains.

Clearly, the romance and pursuit of a romantic relationship is not the usual experience. However, there was another man in Sophia's life who she had met when he almost fell out of a tree. This boy, who shall remain unnamed since you should experience him yourself, is a preacher with a big heart who loves Sophia for her true self. After her world is shrouded constantly in gray at the Abbey, he provides a bright spot in her life that makes her fall for him after a measly three secret meetings. While I would normally criticize this as a terrible case of insta-love, this bright spot in Sophia's dreary existence (at the time) was welcome and greatly added to the plot. This cute love was another great sub-plot thrown in by Nickerson.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes a mysterious tale, an amazingly well done villain, skin-crawling surprises, and historical fiction. With all of these different aspects weaved into a great debut, I can see many enjoying this book. Though not as creepy as the original tale and admittedly slow at times, it will certainly hold your attention. My biggest complaint was Sophia's constant need to remain within Wyndriven Abbey, but then again, this can be attributed to Bernad's desire to confine her for his ultimate control. As annoying as it was, it attributed to the overall plot.

A warning to parents, this novel is marked for those aged 14+ and I highly suggest following these orders. If you are fourteen and easily scared or squeamish, I would even recommend holding off on this book for a short while. With that being said, I'm a big wuss and I really loved the chilling atmosphere that I indulged in, but this book is not for the easily scared.


4 stars

~*~Links~*~

6 comments:

  1. I had no interest in this one until I read your review! Now I'm definitely going to check it out!

    Jennifer
    YA Sisterhood

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  2. Hmm, ages 14 and up? Yep, this has me interested, and usually it takes me a lot to read a fairytale re-telling. The concept is pretty intriguing -- especially when so many main characters in YA novels have red hair. Literally, I can probably name about twenty off the top of my head. It's the hair color of choice apparently. I'll have to check it out. "Strands of Bronze and Gold" is a really good title as well. And your review as started to sway me! I love a good creepy villain :)

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  3. Your review made me want to read this one even more than I already wanted to. I had no idea that it was set in the pre civil war time. Love that! Guess I've got to get my hands on this one!

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  4. Ahh! I have to read my copy of this one soon! Everything in your review makes me eager to read this one. I love history and creepiness and cute romances. I really wasn't sure about this one before now but I will definitely be picking it up! Great review!

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  5. I was honestly a bit iffy on this book when I heard it was set in the Antebellum South, but the way you (and other) describe the incorporation of setting makes it seem more like a book I would enjoy. As long as the author doesn't sermonize too much, I actually think this could work well.

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    Replies
    1. It doesn't sermonize too much. That was a worry of my own as well. While religion can't NOT be a part of this book because it was one of the justifications of slavery back in the day, it's not in your face religion.

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