Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

Strangs of Bronze and GoldGoodreads: Strands of Bronze and Gold
Series: Strands of Bronze and Gold #1
Source: Gift

Official SummaryThe 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.

ReviewStrands of Bronze and Gold offers a compelling unique story for fans of retold fairy tales.  It tackles “Bluebeard,” not one of the standard stories on the retold fairy tale circuit, and packages it in the nineteenth century American South.  History and fairy tales are a wonderful combination, often providing opportunities for unique voices and settings.  Strands of Bronze and Gold is no exception.  Though Sophie does not often leave her godfather’s house, she provides readers with an inside look into the luxurious life of the Southern gentry, accentuated by the fact that she, a native of Boston, is an outsider in this rich and quiet world, too.

Sophie could be either immediately endearing or annoying, according to readers’ perspectives.  She rambles from the moment she meets her godfather, explaining she is not normally so chatty but simply overwhelmed by her new surroundings.   Her chattering never stops, however, even as she must be growing used to her new home, even when she meets other new people.  Considering Sophie is often alone in the mansion, shut away from interactions with anyone other than her godfather, her talking may be both a coping mechanism for herself and for the readers, who barely meet any other characters, as well.   In the end, however, her ramblings often make her seem rather silly.

Of course, some level of silliness is a prerequisite for the protagonist of this story. She has to walk a line between being foolish enough to become entangled in her godfather’s trap and smart enough to have some chance of getting out of it—and to keep readers for giving her up as a hopeless cause.  Sophie manages this pretty well, even commenting once to the effect of, “I’ve always wondered how characters in stories could foolishly get themselves in such troubles.  Now I know.”

The plot Sophie enters is at some times obvious and at others deliciously creepy.  Her godfather’s obsession with her, due to his age, is one of level of disturbing.  Sophie’s supernatural encounters with the dead are another.  The story of the ghosts could have been more fleshed out, but mostly it seems intended as an eerie backdrop for the readers and a convenient warning mechanism for Sophie—one to which she often fails to pay any heed.

The story’s greatest strength lies in Sophie’s self-reflection.  As she spends increasing time in her godfather’s world, she begins to realize she is losing her sense of self.  She is abandoning her values because someone else has told her they do not matter, or because there is no one around to see whether she is behaving appropriately or not. Sophie realizes morality and identity are what she does even when no one is watching.   Such moments of Sophie’s thoughts and self-evaluation are sprinkled throughout the book and can encourage readers to think more about their own ideas on principles and identity.

The book’s obsession with morality also leads to its greatest weakness, however.  The book is set in the 1800s in the American South.  Meaning slavery.  Meaning Sophie is the cliché character who stands firm against this atrocity even as all the other characters accept it.  The desire behind this characterization is understandable, even commendable.  It would be difficult for modern readers to completely back a character who unequivocally approves of or even encourages slavery—but they could accept someone whose views more nuanced, caught between the passion of a cruel overseer and the zeal of a Underground Railroad conductor.   Authors do a disservice to historical fiction and historical figures by vilifying characters who promote anything  modern society opposes–whether slavery, segregation, anti-feminisim, etc.—and ensuring their protagonists are all outspoken advocates of modern values.  Today’s readers basically agree slavery is wrong.  We do not need fictional characters self-righteously throwing the fact in our faces.  We can handle more complexity in characterization.  We will not all turn on Sophie if, instead of raring to free all the slaves she can find, she admits her views on slavery are a little more confused.

Interestingly, the other characters do tend to be more nuanced.  The house’s servants and slaves are somewhat one-dimensional, background characters who exist to drive the plot or Sophie’s own characterization. Her godfather, however, is quite complex, experiencing a wide range of moods and desires.  A character Sophie meets in secrecy also has more complicated views of the world and of right and wrong.

Strands of Bronze and Gold is a fresh addition to the retold fairy tale market.  It has its flaws, mostly in under-development of plotlines and minor characters, but the originality of its subject matter and its tendency to ask weighty questions of both characters and readers make it a worthwhile read for those who appreciate retold fairy tales, imaginative historical fiction, or a little darkness in their YA .

Published: March 2013

7 thoughts on “Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

    • Briana says:

      I always enjoy the combination of fairy tale and historical fiction for some reason. I think it can help keep the emphasis on plot, whereas straight historical fiction has more of a tendency to veer off into lectures about period clothing or tools, etc.


    • Briana says:

      Strangely, I can’t remember whether I’ve read the original “Bluebeard” or just summaries. My impression is that this departs somewhat significantly, so it’s original. Definitely the setting and the ending have been changed, and of course it’s all fleshed out to novel length.


  1. Elizabeth says:

    I’m a huge fan of fairy tale retellings (I try to get my hands on all of them) so I’m surprised I haven’t run across this sooner, even though Bluebeard isn’t as well known. Glad I found this – quickly heading to the top of my TBR list!


    • Briana says:

      It definitely has an original premise! I love when authors move away from the standards like “Cinderella” (though I love tons of “Cinderella” retellings, so there’s really nothing wrong with them!). Of course, the more obscure the original fairy tale, the less likely I am to be familiar with it and have much of a basis for judging whether a book is a good retelling of it or not!


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