Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
September 2008

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


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