Rumpelstiltskin was always one of the creepier fairy tales. Growing up, who didn’t cower when they heard his requests? With A Curse Dark as Gold, I love the fact that Elizabeth C. Bunce chose to retell the tale in her own unique way. Even better, the book takes place during the Industrial Revolution. Fans of fairy tales with historical twists such as Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days will eat this novel up. I also love that Bunce’s rendering has a life of its own; "Rumpelstiltskin" himself does not exist in the same form. As Bunce says in her Author’s Note, she was inspired by “Name of the Helper” tales, not just the famous German version we all grew up with. Even more interesting, “naming” doesn’t really play a role in this novel.
The book centers around Charlotte Miller after her father dies, leaving her and her younger sister, Rosie, to run the mill. The old place is falling apart and never allows itself to be properly fixed, leaving the workers to whisper about curses and otherworldly creatures. Charlotte believes their mutterings to be nothing more than superstition, convinced that everything has been one long string of bad luck that has kept the mill from running fluidly. The girls are soon joined by Uncle Wheeler, who seems benevolent on the surface, but is hiding his own secrets. At first, the girls are happy to have his help—until it becomes apparent that he’d rather sell the mill and marry them off. It’s up to Charlotte to take matters into her own hands and keep the mill running. Along the way, she’s met with more bad luck, but also happy coincidences. We watch her marry and have a baby. All isn’t as happy as it seems, however. Someone is trying to ruin the mill, and each time the sabotage is discovered, Charlotte must turn to the mysterious Jack Spinner for help. Eventually, Jack asks for something so priceless in exchange that Charlotte will do whatever it takes to find out the truth behind the mill’s run of bad luck.
A Curse Dark as Gold is beautiful and lyrical, full of descriptions you want to highlight and hold close to your heart. The book is also grounded in reality; Charlotte doesn’t believe the superstitious stories everyone tells, and when she explains why each new scenario is bad luck, it’s easy to believe her logic. Bunce is such a deft reader, that readers are left wondering whether occurrences are supernatural or real just like all of the characters. The novel also consists of strong character development. Jack Spinner is properly creepy, and you’re always on your toes around Uncle Wheeler. You cheer for Charlotte when she finds happiness, but want to throttle her when she holds her secrets close to her chest, refusing to confide in anyone. Even more minor characters have roles to play, and the way Bunce resorts to using last names based on a person’s position the way it used to be helps keep everyone straight. The book starts off slow, but picks up in speed, especially at the end. Along the way, it’s a beautiful story full of historical context with just the right mix of fairy tale thrown in.
At first, this cover doesn’t look like much. It didn’t reach up and grab me from the shelves. On closer inspection, however, it’s full of subtext and meaning. At one point in the novel, Charlotte reflects on how nice it is to have a dress that isn’t stained at the hems. You can see stains all over the frock she’s wearing on the book jacket. Her hair’s pulled back in a way that’s practical so it won’t get in the way at work. The braid also makes her look younger, reminding readers just how young Charlotte and her sister actually are. Finally, I love the way the gold thread is wrapped around her hands. Not only does it give you a hint at the fairy tale lying within, but it’s also draped around her in such a way that it’s like Charlotte is being held prisoner. I LOVE the hidden subtext there! I also like the way the title is gold and flowing like thread, curls and all. It’s a very nice, albeit understated, design.
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