A Curse Dark as Gold
by Elizabeth C. Bunce
March 1st 2008 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Hardcover, 400 pages
0439895766 (isbn13: 9780439895767)
rating: 3 of 5 stars
2009 William C. Morris YA Debut Award
A Curse Dark as Gold is Bunce's debut novel, and a re-imagining of the folk tale Rumpelstiltskin.
In Bunce's version, Charlotte and Rosie Miller are the last living descendants of the owners of Stirwaters mill. Stirwaters is the last industry holding their small town together, and Charlotte feels a burdened sense of over-responsibility to keep the mill running. Despite her best efforts, and the dubious assistance of her long-lost Uncle Wheeler, mishaps continue to happen which threaten the future of Stirwaters. Finally, Charlotte makes a deal with a strange man, a deal which may save Stirwaters but will cost Charlotte all that she holds most dear.
A Curse Dark as Gold is well-researched. Bunce bases the story on the woolen industries of Britain and America in the late 1700s, in the early years of the Industrial Revolution. She's comfortable enough with her subject matter to introduce it effectively to her readers - we are neither overcome with information nor do we feel we're lacking.
Unfortunately, the rest of the narrative is not so deftly handled. The pace of the book is slow, even plodding, at times. Bunce seems hesitant in places, and the result is that the reader seems to be watching a train wreck in slow motion - unable to help, unable to look away. The awkwardness is palpable.
The reason I would not read this book again, however, is that the protagonist, Charlotte, thoroughly grates on my nerves. She is supposed to be the heroine, but her willful stubbornness sets poorly against the episodes of naivete, her business cunning belies her ignorance of the world beyond her village. I think the characterization is a reflection of Bunce's uncertainty with her own skills.
I'm torn on whether to recommend this book to you. Indeed, it has some charming strengths, bits of gold among the straw, as it were. Mostly, however, you have to dig through too much straw to find too little gold to make it entirely worthwhile.