A Curse Dark as Gold – Elizabeth C. Bunce
Arthur A. Levine Books (Imprint of Scholastic Inc.), 2008
The woollen mill Stirwaters lies at the heart of its community, but has been plagued by uncanny ill luck throughout the generations of its keepers. Inheriting the mill after the death of her beloved father, Charlotte is determined to prove the rumours of a curse to be no more than superstition. Soon, however, with her family’s business reeling from disaster to disaster, she is forced to accept help from an inexplicable stranger who claims he can spin straw into gold. He can save Charlotte’s mill from ruin – if she is prepared to pay his price.
I love fairy tales. I suppose that might be a little bit obvious, given that this is the third fairy tale reimagining I’ve reviewed so far. This book was recommended on Tamora Pierce’s website and after reading Bunce’s Star Crossed, I had high expectations which were only heightened by the beautiful cover of the library hardback I borrowed, with its enigmatic heroine entangled in gold. As to what lay inside, well, let me put it this way. By the last few chapters I was glued in place. There were plot twists I didn’t see coming, characters I wanted to shout at and hug at the same time, creepy mysteries and outrageous injustices – in short, all the ingredients for a very compelling read. Best of all, it was truly original.
SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this bit until you’ve read the book, it will ruin the story for you as well as making no sense. One of the things that impressed me most about A Curse Dark as Gold was how Charlotte got married halfway through and the story kept going. Yes, it was a big thing in her life, but there was a whole lot more going on that needed resolution. I can’t recall anything else I’ve read recently, or maybe ever, where this has been done. To be fair, I don’t know if it would work in many books, where emotional tension is knitted intrinsically into the rest of the protagonist’s problems (e.g. they can’t be together until the war is over; they blame each other for everything bad that’s going on; they think they’re related and it takes a while to work out they’re not), but it worked here and was very refreshing. Having a young wife and mother running a business on her own as the heroine of a YA novel feels really healthy. Also, I love Rumpelstiltskin as a misunderstood ghost trying to avenge his son. I never saw the story that way before, but now it just makes sense.