Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review: Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

Strands of Bronze and Gold--Jane Nickerson
March 2013 by Random House Children's Books
352 pages--Goodreads

The Bluebeard fairy tale retold. . . .

When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.

If you're not already familiar with this book or the Bluebeard fairytale, this review will be a bit spoilery.   The story is excellently creepy, but is even creepier if you don't know what to expect.  You have been warned; read on at your own peril.

Strands of Bronze and Gold is no horror or thriller novel.  It is a slow burn, but the gradual  reveal of Monsieur Bernard's true self is excellently written.  He's perfectly charming, then he makes us a bit uneasy, then a few things are out of place but mostly okay, then it's worse, then it's just wrong, but by then there's no escape and I'm sitting on the couch almost feeling nauseous about how bad things have gotten.  

Nickerson writes an abusive relationship very well.  From almost the first chapter almost every warning flag I'm aware of begins popping up.  Bernard isolates Sophia from her loved ones.  He makes her feel indebted to him.  He makes her financially dependent on him.  He lashes out and then apologizes.  He threatens to harm her family if she leaves.  She at first rationalizes his behavior then sees no way of escape.  The emotional, psychological, and eventually physical abuse is so well written, it is almost painful to read.  After finishing the novel, I was emotionally drained.  Abuse is not something I particularly enjoy reading about, but it needs to be talked about.  Bravo to Nickerson for such a good portrayal.  

One thing that did bug me about the abuse was at the end of the novel Sophie explains Bernard's abusive behavior by saying he must have been mentally unstable.  I agree that something has gone very wrong in the minds of abusers, but it can't always be excused by mental illness.  A lot of it, especially for Monsieur Bernard, is a culture of domination and absolute power.  Most abusers aren't born broken; they are raised to abuse.

I love how Nickerson wove slavery and the Southern setting into the fairy tale.  Bernard has had complete control over other people all his life.  He dehumanizes them to justify his treatment of them.  These behaviors and justifications then translate to his treatment of Sophie.  Make no mistake though, this is not a book about slavery.  It does not examine racism or racial privilege.  And that's okay with me.  I don't think every book involving a black character has to be a philosophical examining of all the sociocultural implications.  This is Sophie's and Bernard's story and no one else's.  

Nickerson does use a bit of deus ex machina to resolve the climax.  I know the devise is set up early on and alluded to several times throughout the novel, but it still feels like a too convenient and coincidental solution..

I can't say Strands of Bronze and Gold was a delight to read, because abuse is never enjoyable to read about.  But it was well written and an excellent novel.  A slow burning Southern gothic with painfully creepy undertones.  And the cover is shiny.  

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...