Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Review - Strands of Bronze and Gold

Original Title: Strands of Bronze and Gold
Series: Strands, #1
Author: Jane Nickerson
Published: March 6th, 2013

Publisher: Random House Children's Books


I will start this review by saying I have absolutely no idea why I read this book. It wasn’t even in my to-be-read pile, although I’ve known it for quite some time. So basically, reading this was the epitome of a whim. Nothing more.

First, you should know, Strands of Bronze and Gold is a retelling of a French fairy tale, Bluebeard, which I read in the middle of reading this book, and it is probably one of the darkest stories I’ve ever read. As for the book, it is YA, and upon asking myself if it is historical fiction or not, I would say yes, and no. Yes, because, on the one hand, there is an entire subplot around slavery, so you can tell more or less in which time period we are in. Plus, we get an specific location for Wyndriven Abbey, in Mississippi, and an specific year (in Sophia’s letters to her sister, which not only helped us see de Cressac through her eyes, but also, was a good idea to pass through months, instead of having a row of useless chapters filled with lengthy descriptions of Sophia’s daily life). And no, because there are no specific historical facts the story could have been built around, except for what you can guess, if you have an understanding of American history.

Ok, the setting. It was amazingly done. The writing is good, the descriptions are detailed and wonderful, and the dresses, the jewels, and the rooms in the Abbey were absolutely beautiful. But sometimes they were too long. Lots and lots of descriptions forced on the reader when the story would have benefited from more action to move the plot forward. Yet, even with all those details, the creepy atmosphere is really well done. You can never shake the feeling that there’s something sinister in the air, everything is a massive gothic stage ready for the creepy to occur, including the classic element of the pretty girl running away from the monster.

Another thing I appreciated is that, even though I knew the fate of de Cressac’s wives because I had previously read the fairy tale, all those women got to have their own voice and name, and, even if briefly and superficially, a personality of their own. Just, everything was definitely creepier than I was expecting, but again, what good can come from marrying an obsessive psychopath with a redhead fetish?

As for Sophia Petheram, the protagonist… She was a test to my patience. The first thing I will say is that she could definitely have used her brain more often. I didn’t completely hate her, but I didn’t love her, either. Sometimes her naivety was too much; events would just happen right in front of her, and she still wouldn’t realize things. She and Bernard de Cressac have nothing short of an abusive relationship, when he showers her with things she doesn’t ask for, nor needs, not allowing her to have a say in the matter, and getting angry when she doesn’t react the way he was expecting. I get that, at first, de Cressac is captivating for her, and she kind of thinks herself in love with him, to the point of saying:

It was as if I were only truly alive when I was with him.

Even through her fascinated perception, the sense of dread continues, like there’s something really dark there, that those feelings aren’t natural. It’s easier to believe it’s a spell. And it’s not long before de Cressac reveals himself as an obsessive pervert, something that was left very clear in the scene in which Sophie and de Cressac play music together, which, if I understood correctly, it’s a metaphor for sex (starting with his cello mentioned as the “instrument between his knees”). Besides, there were moments in which I literally asked Sophie “Are you an idiot?”. She wasn’t even smart enough to shut her mouth when she had to, going to de Cressac to tell him her every thought. Plans to leave and go back with her siblings? Tells de Cressac. Meets Gideon Stone in the forest? Tells de Cressac. *face-palm* Seriously, girl, don’t make me punch you in the face, haven’t you learned so far that he’s a control freak and a jealous, dangerous man, who had no qualms about killing an innocent cat just because you were nicer to it than to him? Do I have to be the one to tell you to just act, instead of babbling about your intentions?

True is that Sophie goes through the loss of her innocence as the story progresses, but sometimes I wondered, does she really not realize how creepy her situation is? She doesn’t think for a second that what de Cressac is doing is wrong. His horrible temper aside, forcing his presents on her, making her dress for him in the outfits he chooses, his forced kisses, later licking her fingers (and other areas)… And this:

I have told you, ma belle, you do not need to be anything but decorative.

It can’t get more direct than that. She can’t be told in any clearer way that she’s just a doll for him. And still, she doesn’t think there’s anything shady there (let alone does something). And at one point, she thinks:

Perhaps it wasn’t true, but it seemed as if I were as much in Bernard’s power as any slave on the plantation.


I don’t know what’s worse here. The fact that she still thinks it may not be true, or how long it took her to finally understand it. When I read that, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes, like, really, Sophia, did you JUST realized that? I honestly thought she would be smarter than that, because it’s not like he disguises his obsession, and literally calls her “decoration”. As I told you, things would happen right in front of her, impossibly clearer, and she would still doubt them. And one of the most idiotic ways in which she did that was near the end, when she goes to the garden folly (which de Cressac had previously forbidden her to visit), finds the door open and enters, not thinking for a second how strange that is, like saying “oh, this perpetually closed, forbidden place, that I shouldn’t be in, is open. Maybe I shouldn’t go in there.” Anyone with half a brain would realize it is a trap, after de Cressac left her the keys. But even that was too much to ask from Sophia.

As for finding out de Cressac actually killed his other wives, I definitely think she could have figured it out way earlier in the book, instead of needing to see things as literally as finding their teeth in de Cressac’s room. I mean, the clues were all over the place, and with the wife named Tara –who presumably killed herself–, more than with the others, as it literally says that the housekeeper doesn’t know how “she was able to use one of the armory’s jeweled knives when it was always kept locked.” *face-palm* Oh, my God, DUH!! You have to be kidding me. It can’t take you THAT LONG to figure that out. It just can’t. I mean, I get that Mrs. Duckworth refused to see her master was evil, denying his wretchedness to the very end, but Sophie, please, connect the dots, and don’t do this to me!

Bernard de Cressac is one creepy character, and I really hated him (which is pretty much the point). He has a horrible temper, is unpredictable, and multi-faceted. Right from the get-go you can tell he’s a pervert, and that being Sophia’s godfather is something he assumed as a start, his intentions being very different from the duties of a father-like figure. He’s already creepy in the way he talks, all smooth compliments, and in the topics he chooses. And if it wasn’t enough to bring up the topic of Sophie’s underwear before one of her first dinners in the Abbey, he makes her dress in the revealing outfit of an Indian dancer, when he isn’t dressed in the same fashion (bear in mind Sophia is only 17 years-old). And, to one’s surprise, Sophia’s does not catch on his dark intentions, doing as he says, without questioning.

Last night he told me he liked me in white (“so pure and innocent”). Something white, then…

Really? You just don’t see it? It’s not like he’s very subtle. And if that wasn’t enough, not even de Cressac being angry at her because she kept old love letters, his selfishness, his temper, his constant presents, making her believe her siblings have forgotten her by keeping their letters from her… are clues to her. None of them. He’s not a love interest, but their relationship is abusive, and insanely obsessive. And Sophia is not the strong heroine I thought she would be, ready (or at least willing) to fight it.

By saying things like “I want you simply to enjoy yourself all the day long and then dress yourself beautifully at night to please me”, he’s not only clear with his intentions, but he’s also disgusting, and completely irredeemable (which is the point of the book). Nothing happens with his character, not there’s a revelation about his past, that could possibly redeem him. He not only forces himself on her, but he also backs her into a corner by using her love for her family against her, helping them with their financial problems, so she can see that, by marrying him, she could save them. And, in a subtler note, at one point Sophia thinks roses are common in romance, and later, for the ball, her sister Anne appears with them in her hair, sent by de Cressac, which I interpreted as him marking the difference between her and her sister, like Anne is the common one, who does not stands out, and Sophia is the star of the ball, and of Bernard’s “affection”.

Am I looking to much into it? I don’t know, maybe.

As for Gideon Stone, the love interest, I don’t think there was enough about him, he felt depthless and brought out of nowhere, and aside from their friendly conversation in the forest, he does NOTHING. Not to help her, or save her, or anything. I feel the story could have been told perfectly well without him. Sophia says she loves him, but they don’t even kiss, not even after they agree to marry, and there’s not a solid reason why they like each other to the point of love. They start exchanging letters in secret, and the only one we read by him is about an incident with a man from the village and his oxen cart, and I… *face-palm* I mean, yes, it’s the start of trust between them, but it would have been better if the author had decided to show me some of the later letters in which there’s already a relationship between them, instead of dumping that random event on me.

Another thing I noticed was how many side characters the author introduced, like Talitha, Charles, Odette, Daphne, Peg Leg Joe… All of them having little to no influence on the main storyline, just like the slavery subplot. With the main characters reduced to heroine and villain, and little else, so many side characters weren’t really necessary. Among them, only Odette –Sophia’s French maid– has some meaningful role, before dying. We don’t even get closure around Talitha and Charles’s dilemma, because although they managed to escape, I really thought they would be back to help Sophia, but they didn’t.

Another thing I noticed was that the mystery seemed to be permanently growing, but without answers, and without taking the opportunities given by the circumstances, to deepen the plot. For example, more than once, de Cressac both didn’t show up, and went away, because of his business. He’s always doing something around that, and, I believe, it could have been an opportunity to make him even worse. We know he owns a plantation, and that doesn’t ask for a lot of questions, we wouldn’t really look into that, and, in my opinion, it’s a good opportunity for a shocking plot twist. You know, he’s shady, and disturbing, he’s always out in business… But that is exactly what he’s doing. The chance to make him even creepier went down the drain.

And finally, a word in a couple of things I noticed. Sophia said a million times that she was using the dead wives’ hair for the tapestry she planned to give him as a gift, and for that, I really thought one of his lines in the chapel scene would be “you thought I wouldn’t realize those are my wives’ hair”, or something around it, as de Cressac seemed to always be up to everything happening in the Abbey. But it didn’t happen. And, by the end, when de Cressac got his leg trapped in the forest, and Sophia ran away, the suspense was going great, I felt scared for her, in that dark, creepy surroundings. But when she reached Anarchy’s house, and she gave her the tea and left her alone, shaking with terror, I was not expecting such an abrupt end. You move to the next chapter, and everything is already passed. It’s a new day, the sun shines, de Cressac is dead, and she and Gideon are finally together.


No. It doesn’t work for me.

So, those are my thoughts on Strands of Bronze and Gold. Good atmosphere, well done setting and mystery build-up, and a terrible villain, but with a heroine who lacked a functional brain, a lot of side characters who did nothing, and an under-developed subplot that could have been interesting, but it wasn’t. Add to this a dash of wasted opportunities to make the book richer, better, darker, and there you have it: a not so great gothic retelling of an already creepy fairy tale.

As for the rest of the series, having such a start, I don’t think I’ll read them, unless I have another weird whim moment, and I pick them up.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope lockdown is not being to harsh on you, guys.
See you soon!


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