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.
Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.
Strands of Bronze and Gold begins quite slowly, taking almost the entire first half of the book to create the creepy and dangerous atmosphere that surrounds the story of Bluebeard. While part of it can be attributed to the fact that Bernard doesn’t allow Sophia to venture out of the Abbey, nothing of import seems to happen until the quarter of the book. Before that point, we get to read descriptions of Sophia’s clothing, the exquisite foods that her godfather eats, and the Abbey itself over and over. This repetition and lack of action caused me to start skimming through the pages of description, pausing only to read the salient points. It wasn’t until the last ~50 pages that the action began to pick up, capturing my complete attention. The ending is tense, creepy and full of suspense, though a bit too short for my liking – if the rest of the book had the same pacing, it would have made for a more enjoyable read overall.
Bernard is easily the most intriguing aspect of this book, as he is such a dynamic character. There are hints about his true nature from the beginning of the book, though at first they’re overshadowed by the more positive aspects of his character: his good looks, his generosity, and his charming personality. There is a slow buildup to the revelation of his true character, which is kind of disturbing to behold, though readers with prior knowledge of the fairy tale will not be surprised by it.
I have mixed feelings about the protagonist, Sophia. Her naive, unassuming nature was to be expected, as she said herself that she had been fairly sheltered from the world since her father’s death. Her willingness to sacrifice her happiness to ensure that her family is provided for is admirable, though the inquisitive nature that I expected her to possess – after all, the Bluebeard story is a cautionary tale about the dangers of curiosity – is somewhat lacking.
While I like the Southern Gothic setting, there is a subplot involving the slavery and Underground Railroad that I was not particularly fond of. It’s never fully explored and seems merely to be a plot device to highlight how kind Sophia is for wanting to help the slaves.
Overall, despite all of its potential, Strands of Bronze and Gold was merely an “okay” read. If I hadn’t been familiar with the original fairy tale – which provided me with expectations of a creepy, dark, and horror-filled story – I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.