A Curse Dark As Gold - Elizabeth C. Bunce Elizabeth Bunce’s A Curse Dark As Gold is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin myth set in an England-like world on the cusp of an Industrial Revolution, and it’s a wonderful book. The story centers round the village of Shearing and the millhouse of Stirwaters where Charlotte and Rosie Miller have been left orphaned by the death of their father. For five generations, Stirwaters has been in the Miller family despite the fact that no son has survived childhood and a curse seems keep the operation from enjoying any lasting success; every year is a struggle to make enough money to keep the mill afloat and provide the work Shearing’s inhabitants depend upon to survive. Now that these young women are left to fend for themselves, peril immediately looms as the modern, industrial weaving practices of the Pinchfields mills threatens to undersell their business. The daughters then learn that their father has taken out a mortgage on the mill that’s coming due. And – if those dangers weren’t enough – someone is sabotaging the mill’s work. Into this situation steps the mysterious figure of “Jack Spinner,” who saves the mill but keeps asking a higher and higher price until he demands a sacrifice from Charlotte that drives her to discover the source of Stillwaters’ curse and finally break it.

Two things make A Curse a four-star read. The first is Bunce’s evocation of the Golden Valley and the village of Shearing, particularly the life of the millhouse. You may learn more about shearing and weaving than you’ll ever use but it makes the story come alive and reinforces you’re acceptance of Charlotte’s (and other’s) devotion to the mill. The second factor is Charlotte Miller. The story is told from her point of view so you come to know and understand her intimately. She’s a proud, stubborn and independent young woman but her heart’s in the right place and everything she does, she does to protect the mill and the people who depend upon it for their livelihoods. Though there are many instances where I wanted to whack her upside the head with one of her cloth bolts because she often acts too prideful, stubbornly and independently, in the end she realizes that she’s not alone and manages to balance those things that she alone must do and those things where she can rely on the support of her family and friends. And she learns when pride has gone too far, as she explains to Rosie:

I pulled her closer. Her hands were cold; she must be as weary as I. “I’ve seen what comes of an unwillingness to forgive, and I’ll not pass that legacy on to William. And nor will you.” (p. 387)

I also enjoyed Bunce’s writing style. Some reviews have characterized it as “too slow” or “boring” but a better descriptive would be “measured”: It builds up a picture of Shearing and the lives of the characters without interfering with the story, and where it needs to move at a trot, it does so. I think many writers could take lessons from the author’s style. (One author who doesn’t but whose writing Bunce’s reminds me of is Jeffrey E. Barlough in his Western Lights series – both are set in England-like worlds of similar eras, and both call up an ambiance of quixotic characters and settings where Faerie and magic lurk at the peripheries of ordinary life.)

Bunce’s also – thankfully – doesn’t strain to make figurative analogies but often succeeds in creating just the right image for you to “see” the scene, e.g.:

That day we had two of Mrs. Hopewell’s pieces stretched out, dove grey satinette and a blue flannel, running along the river like its reflection. (p. 53)

It will be with a good deal of pleasure and enthusiasm that I pass this novel along to my nieces this Xmas, and I’m looking forward to acquiring Bunce’s second novel, Starcrossed, soon.