After being disappointed by several YA novels in the past few weeks I was in desperate need of a book that was good, enthralling, interesting… And I pretty much found them all in Strands of Bronze and Gold.
I love a fairytale retelling, in fact it is one of my VERY favorite things in the whole world. So I was happy that this was a Bluebeard retelling and hopefully that it was accomplished better than Kill Me Softly.
Sophia is a red headed 17 year old when her father dies and her rich Godfather requests she come live with him. When she arrives at Wyndriven Abbey Mississippi it is the year 1855 and while she is used to the North’s views on slavery her Godfather runs a plantation and it bothers her that he keeps slaves.
Bernard lavishes her with jewels, dresses and everything her heart could desire and Sophia begins to fancy herself a little in love with him. He may be in his late 30s or 40s (the book never says) but he is still very handsome and nice to her.
Slowly, though, Sophia finds out that he isn’t a very nice man, he is cruel, jealous, manipulative and controlling. He hides letters her family sends her, refuses to allow her to attend church or have friends. The slaves who are overly kind to her are sent away or treated harshly. Bernard does not tolerate back talk or any opinion that differs from his own. He tries to be romantically affectionate with her on multiple occasions and while at first she likes it, though deems it inappropriate; soon she finds his kisses and caresses revolting.
Sophia finds out that he has had four red headed wives, Tatiana, Adele, Victoire and Tara. She finds out they are all dead, even though Bernard swears that Victoire left him for another man after their son died. She doesn’t think much about their deaths since people die all the time. Tatiana in child birth, Tara committed suicide and Adele who was always sick took ill on a trip and died. She begins to see their ghosts and calls these dead wives her Sisters.
Sophia meets a young preacher and falls in love, but knows that Bernard will never let her go. She finally gets Bernard to invite her siblings over Christmas and once there he convinces them he is a great match for Sophia and loves her. He proposes and tells Sophia no one will want her now that she has spent so much time alone with him in his house and that her family is so poor and in debt that they will never make it without his money. All of which is black mail, but true. She agrees to marry him. She hates Bernard at this point because she has seen him do many awful things including; lashing a slave, telling her she is stupid, making lewd remarks in her presence, being mean to his dog and killing her cat. He has giant mood swings and she has to walk on egg shells around him or else the whole house suffers.
After her family leaves Bernard tries to rape her and then has to go out of town on business, he leaves her his keys and tells her she has access to every room in the house but not the old church, because it is not safe. She wants to escape him so she goes snooping, finds teeth in his room and eventually puts together he killed his wives. She gets into the church and finds all four wives bodies along with Victoire’s lover and maid. Bernard finds her in there, tries to kill her, she escapes, Bernard dies, leaving Sophia the heir to his entire estate. She and the preacher get engaged and the end!
I enjoyed the story, I found the characters to be good and well flushed out, the descriptions were perfect and the author wrote about life in the south with slaves and on a plantation with beauty and clarity. She brings in the under ground railroad and the unjustness that African American’s suffered at the hands of their “masters.”
I thought the way she retold the gruesome tale of BlueBeard was good and done with great writing.
However these were the issues that prevented this from being five stars;
1) Sophia- I didn’t care for the main character, I found her kind of annoying actually and maybe a little bit stupid, though she is written like the author was trying to have us believe she is strong and smart. I though minor characters like her maid were written better
2) The wives- this is a fairytale retelling, but I could not understand why Sophia kept seeing their ghosts and why their ghosts were interacting with her, this bit of supernatural stuff didn’t fit in so well with the storyline.
3) Bernard and Sophia’s relationship- BIG pet peeve here. His actions towards his ward were pretty nasty, think Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd, but only there at the end. At first he is romantic, educated, kind and not really a bad suitor. But I didn’t like him because I thought “yuck he is hitting on a girl 20 + years younger than him, gross. The age difference is freaky”…But this got me to thinking. In Jane Eyre Jane is what? 19 or 20? And she married a man in his late thirties or 40’s. I didn’t think that was bothersome. In Sense and Sensibility Marianne is 16 years old when Colonel Brandon takes an interest in her and he is 35. True it is about a year or more before they are married, but I didn’t find that disturbing either. So why not? ANSWER: Because of how the authors wrote the characters. Jane is written as an adult, naïve, sure, but Charlotte Bronte writes her as the grown up she would have been in that time period. Marianne, while passionate, is written as an adult woman. Jane Austen wrote her like that because at 16 in that time she would have been looking for a husband, or a job! Sophia is written to sound like she is still a little girl, like she is 14 or 15 instead of the adult woman of 17 she would have been in 1855. In this time period a poor girl would be blessed to find a wealthy attractive man to marry because women still didn’t have a lot of rights and finding work was hard. It was considered normal and ok for a young woman to marry and older man. The way Sophia’s inner thoughts and personality were written lends a younger voice to her, making Bernard’s intentions far harder to swallow, as a reader.
4) Bernard-the villain- He was too unsympathetic a character. I didn’t like how the author forced the villain label on him. He was written as just a horrible beast with no good qualities. It was as if the author was obviously slapping the role of bad guy on him when the story goes in that direction all by itself. I would have enjoyed this book more had Bernard been a character I could like, loving, kind, hints of evil, but nothing too: BOO! IN YOUR FACE! I AM A BAD GUY. Then when you find out he slaughtered four wives it’s even more of a WOW, didn’t see that coming. It’s what I enjoyed about Kill Me Softly, I liked the bad guy because he didn’t seem like a “bad guy.”
Over all a satisfying read that I couldn’t put down and quite enjoyed. As M. Bernard would say; á la prochein.