Bunce, Elizabeth C. A Curse Dark as Gold (2009). 392 Pages. Scholastic. $9.99
The Stirwaters Woolen Mill has been the center of Shearing (a small English town, pre-Industrial era) for nearly a hundred years, and it has always had bad luck. So have the Millers– the family has owned it since it was built, and never once has a son lived to inherit. The townsfolk whisper of a curse, but strong, practical, determined Charlotte Miller refuses to believe in nonsense.
Perhaps it is a good thing that Charlotte is so practical, because after her father’s death, she inherits nothing but debt and problems. Before his death, her father borrowed £2,000 from Uplands Mercantile, and they are collecting upon the debt immediately. The Stirwaters Mill is the center of the town’s economy, and if it closes the entire town loses their livelihoods. Desperate to keep that from happening, Charlotte will do anything to save her family’s mill, so when a mysterious stranger offers her a chance to save the mill (at a small price), Charlotte accepts.
Of course, Charlotte will soon learn that the bank is the least of her problems…
When my father died, I thought the world would come to an end. Standing in the churchyard in my borrowed mourning black, I was dimly aware of my sister Rose beside me, the other mourners huddled round the grave. Great dark clouds gathered over the river, and I knew them for what they were: The End, poised to unleash some terrible wrath and sweep us all right out of the Valley. I let go my hold on Rosie’s arm, for I was ready to be swept away.
There are times when books build slowly, bit by bit, adding in the pieces and building the story. Before you know it, you’re enthralled. Charlotte is a strong lead, one whose logic you can follow (even if you don’t agree with it) and whose dedication to her home and family is paramount in her life. She is a bit too pigheaded at times (which can be frustrating to the reader) but it is part of her character. She is surrounded by friends and family, townfolk who have their own stories (which are expanded upon as appropriate) and every character seems to serve a purpose.
Because the story is loosely based on “Rumpelstiltskin,” major plot points are predictable, but that does not detract from the story. The fact that Charlotte is her own person, with such a strong personality means that you’re not entirely sure how they’ll get from point A to point B.
I am not an impatient reader. I am willing to give the author time to build their universe (perhaps a trait from reading the works of Robin McKinley, which frequently start slow and build up steam as they move along) and I truly appreciate the way it all comes together. Of the complaints that I came across in bad reviews (on goodreads) was pacing– quite a few people thought it was too slow. If you prefer books that drop you right into the action, this is not the book for you. If you do not mind giving it a bit of time to build up to the main story, then by all means, do pick up a copy.
I loved this book, despite not loving Rumpelstiltskin. It is far from my favorite fairy tale, but I think this particular interpretation is a significant improvement over the original. This book gets a 5/5.
The funny thing about this particular book is that I got it on a book binge, and it’s been sitting here waiting to be read for a few days. Then I read about StarCrossed somewhere, and was looking for that, but when the local Borders didn’t have it, I decided to read a book that I already had at home, which is when I figured out that I already had one book by Elizabeth Bunce. My mom and I had a bit of a laugh over that one. (The pair of us have a bad habit of re-buying books, or buying a billion books by one author before we figure out that we’ve been doing it. For example, we have three or four copies of several Kay Hooper and Lynsay Sands books.)