I am almost always down for fairy tale retellings. Seriously — if a book has just a whiff of being a retelling, I will get my hands on it, most especially if the book is young adult. So it follows that I would be BEYOND excited for Strands of Bronze And Gold by Jane Nickerson, a debut author. For the most part, I quite liked this retelling of the Bluebeard fairytale, but I had a few quibbles mainly because other people brought some issues up and on reflection — yes I agree. ALSO! You guys, I totally had to go wikipedia the Bluebeard fairytale because for some odd reason I was thinking pirates and Treasure Island but LOL that’s BLACKbeard not BLUEbeard. Okay, that aside I am sure you totally want to know what Strands of Bronze And Gold is all about. Read on, friend, read on.
Sophia Petheram’s dad dies — leaving her and her siblings orphans. Unfortunately he doesn’t leave them a fortune but tons of debt. However, lucky for Sophie, her godfather Monsieur de Cressac steps in to take guardianship over her. Cressac is fabulously wealthy, FYI. And so, Strands Of Bronze And Gold opens with Sophia making the journey from Boston to Mississippi. Also? This book is set in the antebellum South — meaning Monsieur de Cressac has slaves. This comes as a culture shock to Sophia. Upon arrival Cressac lavishes all these gowns and jewels upon Sophia — she loves them at first but gradually becomes more and more uncomfortable. As de Cressac as the only person who is really suitable for Sophia to socialize with — she starts to get a crush on him. OH OH and he totally isolates her and won’t let her talk to anyone and punishes the slaves if they get friendly with her. ALSO! ALSO! All of de Cressac’s previous wives have died. So, yeah, as we all know he’s totally hiding a secret and it’s up to Sophia to find out that secret and get the hell out of dodge.
I did not mind the main character of Strands Of Bronze And Gold because she shows growth. Sophia starts the book as a kind of petulant, vain and silly girl. Yet, she matures and realizes there are more important things than fashion and dresses. She also is allowed to change her mind and grow — I like that she has a misguided crush but then actually is allowed to have a realization about how much her crush sucks. Sorry y’all, but he totally does suck. I liked that Sophia was clever. I also liked that she had an inner strength and we saw moments where she has a spine and doesn’t back down to Monsieur de Cressac. So really, what I am trying to say is that Jane Nickerson wrote a main character who didn’t annoy me. Way to go.
I think my very favorite thing about Strands Of Bronze And Gold was the mood the permeated the pages. Nickerson does mood very, very well. You see, as I read I just got this sense of suffocation and the walls closing in — much like Sophia. As a reader, I started off much like Sophia – digging on all the new clothes thinking for an old, Monsieur de Cressac is kind of hot. BUT THEN. He starts to act totally sketchy and you start to see him isolate her and it’s like WHOA HOLD THE PHONE THIS GUY IS BAD. And as he takes away her chances to communicate with people who don’t live at Wyndriven Abbey – you start to feel oppressed. Or at least I did, vicariously. The mood was so strong and overwhelming in this book that I often wanted to stop reading and catch my breath. And no, I am totally not over exaggerating — I just have a lot of feelings y’all.
As for the setting and the time frame of antebellum era Mississippi — I didn’t really think much about it until I saw the Book Smugglers tweeting about how this book portrays Black people. So, because I don’t read in a vacuum, I started to think a lot more deeply about the book as I was reading it, and do concur that it is a problematic element. I realized that one of the people of color mentioned, Anarchy totally falls into the Mammy role. She is super protective and nurturing of Sophia and puts herself at risk to protect Sophia and is totally stereotypical. So, yeah, definitely not cool about that. And I think it’s stupid on my part to not even be aware/think about those things — obviously because of my privilege I don’t think about stuff like that and it really is something I need to work on as a person.
So anyways, on the merits of writing and mood, I very much enjoyed Strands Of Bronze And Gold by Jane Nickerson. I thought Sophia was an interesting lead character and someone I empathized with. However, it’s definitely not okay to rely on stereotypes when writing characters of color and so, that definitely took away from my enjoyment of the book. Don’t get me wrong, I am open to checking out future books by the author, but I think that it’s good to go in with an awareness of what might be problematic.
Disclosure: Received for review via Netgalley
Other reviews of Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson:
The Book Smugglers – “Unfortunately all of it was hugely disappointing.”
Bunbury In The Stacks – “reflects with frightening accuracy how any young woman can become ensnared in an abusive relationship”
Great Imaginations – “It’s creepy, disturbing, unsettling, full of gothicky goodness”