Strands of Bronze and Gold
Random House, 2013
First, a confession: I've never heard of (let alone read) "The Bluebeard fairy tale," so I went into this reading with no background knowledge. At all. I only knew it was a fairy tale retelling, set in the antebellum Deep South, and that cover is absolutely gorgeous. So. Now you know.
This story ... oh man ... it's sweeping. It's isolated. It's dramatic. It's simple. It's ... well. Yeah. (I should probably also confess I read the bulk of this under influence of low-grade fever, waiting for the first dose of antibiotics to kick in and start kicking germ butt. Therefore, if anything totally oddball pops into the review, you know where it came from, ha).
Following the death of her father, Sophia Petheram's world is flipped upside down when her godfather - the mysterious, and exceedingly wealthy, Frenchman Bernard de Cressac, who is also now her guardian - invites her to come live at Wyndriven Abbey in a remote area of Mississippi. Adjusting to the sultry, heavy heat of Mississippi after a lifetime in Boston is Sophie's greatest challenge. At first. Monsieur Bernard is all doting kindness, showering her with gifts and delighting her with tales of his exotic travels. There's a wild, ancient beauty to the Abbey and surrounding countryside, and Sophia is happy. Then ... loneliness and isolation start creeping in. Dark mysteries of the Abby's previous inhabitants start infiltrating the carefully guarded mystique. And Sophie begins to see that Monsieur Bernard has as much darkness (if not more) in his soul as he does fanciful light. After months of rising tension and struggles, everything comes to a shocking conclusion -- rocking Sophie's world to its core once again.
The careful "world-building" in Strands of Bronze and Gold was mesmerizing. I use the term loosely, since it's not a fantasy world - the setting is our own past, the antebellum Deep South. But it's got a foreign touch, thanks to the eccentric habits of Bernard. And it's an entirely new and foreign life for Sophie, adjusting to slaves and servants and great wealth - and all the expectations and encumbrances that wealth entails. There's a fairly extensive cast of supporting characters, who help guide Sophie through the story, but the spotlight is clearly on Sophie and Bernard. Their interactions, and Sophie's gradual transformation from isolated, naive girl to a wiser, perhaps even fiercer, young lady who takes her destiny into her own hands, create an intense narrative and engrossing story.
Book provided by my public library.