Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
A Curse Dark as Gold, by Elizabeth C. Bunce
The first thing that struck me about A Curse Dark as Gold was, like most books, its
cover. On the front: a pretty young girl in simple period clothes, her face slightly
blurred, her hands bound in gold thread. Nice. On the back: gushing reviews (more
than the over-edited one-sentence blurb) from Peter S. Beagle and Sharon Shinn --
two authors whom I both admire as writers and respect as people. The cover flaps
mentioned both fairy tales and romance. Put all that together, and I believe that's
what they refer to, in technical terms, as a "no-brainer."
Not since Robin McKinley have I been sucked so deeply into a fairy tale
("Rumplestiltskin") retelling. From the very first scene I was there beside Charlotte
Miller, standing with her sister at the edge of her father's grave and already
pondering the overwhelming responsibility of following in his footsteps in order to
keep her beloved small milling town alive. I was concerned for her, fell in love
with her, was overjoyed when she got married. I was even more overjoyed that the
book wasn't even halfway over yet. I love that feeling.
This character-driven book is definitely Charlotte Miller's story, but woven
throughout is the mystery of the Rumplestiltskin character of Jack Spinner. He
only makes one brief appearance in the first half of the book, but in the back of the
reader's mind remains the dread of knowing he'll be back. They always come
back. But where exactly did he come from? Where does he go? What does he
want? And, most importantly, what role does he play in the terrible curse that was
placed upon the Stirwaters Woollen Mill all those generations ago?
Stirwaters becomes in part a character itself, so richly has Ms. Bunch drawn her
Industrial Revolution-era setting. The textiles and woolworking, too, are described
in such subtle detail that they blend seamlessly into this old world of charms,
curses, folk legends, and old wives' tales. As a personal preference I do wish there
had been a bit more background about the various superstitions -- everyone seems
to know them, and which to use in which scenario, but why? What were hex
symbols and corn dollies originally created for?
If you're looking for a fast-paced, fly-by-the-seat-of your pants adventure, this
book is not for you. Charlotte Miller's story is a slow build to a revealing climax
and a satisfying conclusion. It is a tale to be read with a hot cup of tea, curled up
with your favorite blanket on a cold winter's night.
Read more by Alethea Kontis