Thursday, April 25, 2013

Strands of Bronze and Gold - Jane Nickerson

Strands of Bronze and Gold book cover
Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson
Series: Strands of Bronze and Gold #1
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Source/Format: Netgalley (Thanks Random House!) || e-galley
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

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. (from Goodreads)

When I finished Strands of Bronze and Gold, I sincerely thought I did not like this book. But after a couple of days had passed, I realized that I couldn't simply dismiss this book as something I didn't like. Yes, it was very creepy. Yes, it made me uncomfortable. Yes, there were elements to it that totally disturbed me. Thing is, that is the way that this book is supposed to read. While it's certainly not a favorite, it certainly had me caught up in the story and curious to see how it would all end.

I really like the way this book is written. I enjoyed Nickerson's writing quite a bit, especially when she would describe the setting. While there were definitely fantastic elements to it, it was mostly realistic. I felt the authenticity, and enjoyed imagining what the abbey and the surrounding grounds looked like. I also liked the isolation of the setting, and thought that it contributed to the creepy, trapped feeling the novel gave me.

As far as story goes, it was a lot creepier than I had expected it to be. Technically, this is my fault for not doing my research and checking out the fairy tale that it's based on (which is horrific, by the way). But, since I had no prior warning, I was really caught up in the twists and turns and odd moments. I had a feeling it was going to be a bit of a train wreck to read about, but I didn't realize how intensely awful and scary things were going to get. Nickerson did a commendable job with the spooky atmosphere and the pacing of her story; both were key in my horrified fascination with what would happen to Sophia.

Oh, and then there's Sophia. I cared very little for her character. At the beginning of the book, I thought her silly and gullible, her head easily turned by the wonder and splendor of her surroundings and the gifts her uncle gives her. I also had issues with how indecisive and passive she could be, even when she felt like something was wrong or unfair or needed to be acted upon. It was good to watch as she realizes that it is up to her to take action and make the most of her situation. She became clever and interesting the more agency she demonstrated, and I enjoyed seeing her figure out how to work around her uncle's mood swings and rules. Eventually, she does do a few things that I can applaud her for.

Obviously, I cannot write this review without mentioning Sophia's godfather, Bernard de Cressac, who is the Bluebeard character of this story. He is, without a doubt, a creepy, twisted man. It fascinated me to hear about his travel adventures and to see his occasional kindness to other people. But from the very start, he disturbed me a great deal. It was not just the temper tantrums or the abrupt changes in mood; it was something about the way he interacted with Sophia. Just thinking about it makes me tense up with discomfort. The fact is that Nickerson was able to write his character in a way that had me very disturbed yet fascinated - and that's pretty great.

Strands of Bronze and Gold is actually a really strong debut novel. While I don't think I would revisit it (mostly because I'm a scaredy cat and it made me very uncomfortable), my experience reading it was an interesting one. It is a compelling "train wreck" type story (where you know something bad will happen but you just can't look away), and I thought the writing was very atmospheric and wonderful. I don't think everyone will appreciate it as much as I have, but I do think fans of fairy tales retold and gothic stories will probably want to give it a try.

28 comments:

  1. I've been kind of curious about Strands of Bronze and Gold. I like creepy, but I'm pretty sure Sophia is going to get on my nerves big time, which means I probably won't like the book.

    It's interesting that after a few days after finishing the book improved for you. That's happened to me before, too. And the opposite where I ended up liking a book less. :)

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    1. Sophia is so hard to like, I admit! But I did, overall, find the story interesting, and worth at least one read. (I was super creeped out though!)

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  2. i've seen great reviews of this book . i'm also interested and i love the creepiness in books . great review

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    1. Awesome! I hope you get around to reading it, and that you enjoy it.

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  3. Hmmm, I'm very curious about it. I kind of like the creepy novels at times so I'm thinking I could enjoy this one. I actually didn't know what this fairy tale was about until it was brought up in Requiem. I then had to look it up because I was like, "Surely this book is twisting it around, no?" It was not! Very creepy.
    I do still have this egalley and haven't made it there yet. Hopefully someday! Great review. Sounds like it's a book that sticks with you for a while.

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    1. Honestly, this book was so, so creepy. I didn't do my research on the fairytale it was based on, which basically meant I had no idea what was happening. I do quite like the atmospherics of the book, and even the story.

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  4. I'm always up for a good fairy tale re-telling, especially when it's a creepy one, and I've heard some interesting things about this one . I'm not super familiar with this particular fairy tale, but I have a pretty good idea of why it makes you so uncomfortable. Honestly, I think these kinds of books are some of the best ones to read. Anything that illicits such a visceral reaction (even a negative one) is the mark of a good storyteller, I'd say. Looking forward to reading it!

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    1. See, initially, I really thought I didn't like this book. But then I realized that, since I was having such a strong reaction, that the book was effective in its retelling. I didn't love it, but I actually liked it!

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  5. The Bluebeard fairytale gave me nightmares for weeks as a kid, so I can imagine the horrors that Strands of Bronze and Gold will have in it! I can't remember all the details of the original story, but I do know that I was SO SCARED!
    It does sounds kinda bad that Sophia was so passive, I really dislike that in a main character! But you've made me really curious, I have this book sitting on my shelve, I'll try and read it soonish :)

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    1. It was very, very creepy! I didn't know what to expect, but it kind of blew my mind with the creepy vibes it gave me. And Sophia is a hard character to like, but I guess it does work for the story.

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  6. Ooh. Well, so far I've only read so-so reviews of this one so I may still read it, but I think it's on my "someday" list rather than my "dying to read it now" list. I am glad you reviewed this one so fairly, Alexa! Creepy sometimes bothers me and sometimes doesn't, so I'll be curious how I feel about it. And it's too bad the MC was sort of a dud!

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    1. Before I read it, I was exposed to those so-so reviews as well! That usually doesn't deter me from reading things though, so I gave it a try. I liked the setting, and I thought the story was effective (in creeping me out) but it was super hard to like Sophia.

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  7. I'm a huge fan of fairy tale re-tellings and I love creepy, atmospheric stories. Bluebeard is on of the more horrifying I agree with the comment above that I'm not completely sold on this one due to some dismal reviews, but I may check it out in the future. My TBR pile is at an almost unmanageable level right now. Great review!

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    1. It was definitely an unexpectedly scary story to me! I should have researched the fairytale beforehand, so that was probably my fault. But still, it was a pretty interesting read for the most part.

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  8. Ooh, this does sound creepy and I haven't read a Bluebeard re-telling before, so I think I'll have to try this! I don't mind a book that has me thinking days after finishing it, either.

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    1. YES! I like it when my thoughts linger on a book after I've read it. While I didn't completely fall in love with this one, it stayed with me. I think that says something positive about it (at least, I'd hope so!).

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  9. I definitely had high hopes for this book and it let me down quite a bit. But I think you're right. It's actually very good, but it makes you so uncomfortable while you read it that it's hard to look past that. I just remember that whenever her godfather was on the page, I was so tense because I had no idea how he was going to react. But, yeah, I also didn't care for Sophia very much and that made it hard to fully get into the book.

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    1. I absolutely agree! I really was expecting to like this one, but Sophia made it hard for me. I didn't necessarily relate to her very well, and I just wanted to yell at her half the time!

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  10. I have yet to read a Bluebeard retelling, which is why I really want to read Strands of Bronze and Gold. I am familiar with the Grimms' original tale, so I'm interested to see how it translates into a full-length story. I have read many reviews that mention Sophia's naivete, but I imagine that's kind of essential to the plot. If she was more suspicious and observant, I feel like the story wouldn't be allowed to happen. The female lead should have a certain amount of gullibility and curiosity for it to work. I understand what you mean about it perhaps not being a story to re-read and I may feel the same way, but I definitely need to give it a try first!

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    1. It's interesting to see how well it parallels the original story, and I thought the retelling was fairly well-done. You make a solid point when it comes to Sophia! The naivete was a little much for me though, personally.

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  11. I really enjoyed this for many of the same reasons - I love being creeped out and uncomfortable (in the good way) and I loved the atmosphere throughout the novel. I shared similar reservations about Sophia, but I also found that her naiveté made for a much more shocking twist (for someone who was unaware of the Bluebeard tale).

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    1. It made me so, so uncomfortable to read this book. But I think, since the original story is meant to be creepy, that this is a good thing! And you made the same point as Amanda did above about the naivete. I really didn't think of it that way, but you two are probably right!

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  12. Interesting how letting the book sit made you reevaluate your initial assessment. It's been a few weeks since I read this but I'm still thinking it was kind of dull-I knew the Bluebeard tale so I wanted her to figure things out much faster than she did.

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    1. It might have made a difference to me if I'd known what the fairytale was about beforehand. I'm sorry that you found it kind of dull though!

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  13. I really value this review, Alexa. I have read a lot of reviews that are seriously hating on some of the content of this novel and I couldn't help but put my English major critique hat on and think "but wasn't it supposed to make you feel this way?" I think a lot about author's intention and I get frustrated when some reviews dismiss and get angry or rate a book lower based on things they don't personally like (FYI I don't mean taboo things, such as rape, and slavery etc., obviously) but there have been times that I have read something that I really disliked based on personal morals, and yet I couldn't help but think that the author intended to cause such a stir of emotion.

    ANYWAY, all of my FEELINGS aside...I have a galley of this and have been reading so many mixed reviews but after reading your very fair review I think I will make sure to give it a try!

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    1. Thank you Alyssa! I tried really hard to be objective about the book, especially in terms of considering what the author meant to do. Did I feel uncomfortable and scared and creeped out? YES. But I felt like that is what was meant to happen - so it ended up working for me. I hope you like it!

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  14. Oooh, I've wanted to read a review of this book from someone who wasn't familiar with the original Bluebeard tale, and you've done just that! I loved how creepy it was (I'm into that kind of thing), but I also knew exactly where the story was going because I'm a fan of Bluebeard (well, the story, not the man). I'm glad this one stuck with you and got you thinking about it, I kind of love those books that I end up liking more than my initial reaction because I can't get them off my mind. The author's doing a Tam Lin retelling next, which should be a bit less creepy!

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  15. YES. The writing was totally on par. I mean, Nickerson totally nailed the mood, ya know? I do think that I liked this book overall, BUT for me the whole depiction of race and stereotypes turned me off. But, should Nickerson write another book, I would totally read it because like you said, her writing style is fantastic and does leave you thinking about the book after you close it.

    And yeah, De Cressac was SUCH A CREEPER OMG. I feel you on the dread.

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