TW: Contains mentions of rape and general creepiness of a skeevy father figure.
After the death of her father, seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram is invited by her godfather Bernard de Cressac to stay with him at Wyndriven Abbey in Mississippi. With her family in dire straits Sophia jumps at the chance to live a glamorous life without the worries of money nagging at her — it helps that her absence will also improve her siblings’ situation. But all is not as it seems as de Cressac becomes increasingly interested in Sophia beyond her existence as his ward. His strange behaviour is only accentuated by the mysterious deaths of his previous wives, and Sophia must learn to play a dangerous game while trying to figure out just what happened to his wives.
Let’s jump right in: The summary at the publisher’s site (which I presume to be the cover blurb) is hella misleading. Sure, sure, it does allude to dangers and terrible passion, but then the last line points out ~glowing strands of romance~ and sorry, yeah, there is romance, at least from the POVs of the characters, but for me as a reader? Not an ounce of romance. That was not romantic. That was… it just wasn’t. De Cressac is incredibly creepy and yeah, I get it, it’s a retelling of the fairytale Bluebeard — what did I expect, right? — but I wasn’t overly familiar with it and frankly I would’ve preferred if Sophia hadn’t been de Cressac’s goddaughter. Anything but the relationship of a guardian and his ward. To say I was horrified and disgusted is putting it mildly, sorry not sorry. I felt physically sick when it dawned on me just what was going to happen, just how utterly disturbing and creepy de Cressac’s attempts at seducing Sophia were. I wasn’t prepared for that sort of thing and I realise that it shouldn’t have been so surprising had I known more than just the broad details of the original fairytale (namely the bit about his previous wives), but frankly… frankly I am appalled that a story like this is recommended for girls 14 and up.
Aside from the squicky plot, though, I have to say that the story was compelling. I wanted to know how things played out in this version and the author kept me, well, entertained, for lack of a better word, until the end. The writing wasn’t overly impressive, I have to say. Maybe I am too unfamiliar with the everyday language of 19th century America, but it didn’t really feel like I was in that time. It didn’t read like that at all to me.
However the characters — some of them at least — made up for the anachronistic feel of the writing. I didn’t like most of them — especially the men were utterly useless, like… wow, Sophia’s brothers? selfish to a fault. the Church dude? without real courage and only marginally caring, in my opinion. de Cressac’s lapdog whose name I forgot? UGH. — but there were some that I thoroughly enjoyed. Anarchy was amazing and I would’ve loved to read more about her. Even Odette was incredibly fascinating, despite the initial dislike I felt, and her motivations were truly intriguing.
Unfortunately, I think the story also suffered from some plotholes — at least that’s how it seems to me, maybe I didn’t pay enough attention? But there’s a point when Sophia specifically reads a book with Charles Perrault’s fairytales, and considering that Charles Perrault’s Bluebeard is the most famous version to this day it makes me wonder why this was included. Sophia didn’t read about Bluebeard as far as I know, so what was the point of it? I don’t think adding meta references was wise in this case because it made me wonder if de Cressac was literally Bluebeard (meaning a literal retelling of it) or if he was sort of, unknowingly emulating him. The story would’ve worked perfectly without that little tidbit, honestly, and I think it was unnecessary to add it.
All in all Strands of Bronze and Gold was an interesting read, though I wish there had been some sort of warning and that I had been more knowledgeable about the original fairytale beforehand. I could’ve avoided all the triggering crap that way. The allusions to rape and de Cressac’s intent to do so are pretty obvious and handing this book to fourteen-year-olds seems like particularly insensitive. Especially after slapping the word “romance” on the back cover to make it more alluring to potential readers. Just no. Not cool. Three teacups for a fascinating and original (if incredibly unsettling) retelling of this fairytale.