Review: A Curse as Dark as Gold, Elizabeth Bunce

Oh, the Once Upon a Time Challenge has returned to gladden our lives once again! I am delighted about this, as you may imagine, because it is making me get back into the swing of reviewing, which I completely fell out of while on vacation. Also because I love hearing about the books y’all are going to read, and also no. 2 because I have a girl-crush on Anne-Julie Aubry and rejoice in any excuse to display her beautiful art. I’ve decided I’m going to choose which banner to display based on which one I think matches the book in question better.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is my first Once Upon a Time Challenge read, a retelling of the story of Rumpelstiltskin. After the death of her father, Charlotte Miller and her sister Rosie find themselves in financial difficulties as they work to keep their mill in operation. Working against them are an alleged curse on the mill, a mortgage that threatens to eat up all their profit, and a louche uncle who shows up to “help” them. Unwilling to lose the mill, Charlotte and Rosie call upon the services of one Jack Spinner, who claims to be able to spin straw into gold.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must say that I have never liked the girl in Rumpelstiltskin. Oh, yeah, go on and have my firstborn son, that’s totally fine, I’m sure I won’t care about the kid once I have it. Really, Rumpelstiltskin girl? Really? In a similar spirit I wanted to take Charlotte Miller and shake her until her teeth fell out of her head. Not sure what that would accomplish except I guess she would have to get dentures and I bet dentures weren’t very comfortable in pre-Industrial Revolution times. So, uh, take THAT, unsympathetic protagonist!

One of my big bookish pet peeves is when the protagonist’s big problem has an obvious solution and s/he refuses to take it for a reason that doesn’t really make any sense. Like when kids refuse to tell their parents/teachers/the cops about their problem because they don’t think their parents would believe them — this can be okay sometimes, but mostly it’s just a cheap way of keeping the plot up and running. Charlotte acquires a source of funding that would solve all her problems, particularly the problems that make her agree to the first-born-child thing (she doesn’t agree to it specifically; she says “Anything” but that’s obviously a stupid thing to say to a sketchy fairy man). But she just won’t use it. No genuinely good reason is given for this, and nobody ever says “What the hell, Charlotte?” about it later. Dislike. If you are going to have your protagonist behave badly, you should at least let her be taken to task.

The fantasy aspects of the book didn’t hang together terribly well either. Dire hints were dropped about a curse, but given wildly varying degrees of credibility, so when they start taking the curse seriously I still wasn’t sure if I should do the same. The book was a messy hodgepodge of village magic (corn dollies, things happening at crossroads), the occasional splodge of high fantasy language (people saying “gods” as an exclamation), and modernization clashing with tradition (banks with mortgages, more efficient mill tools).

Nevertheless, I am not giving up on Elizabeth Bunce! I never wanted to read A Curse as Dark as Gold in the first place. I always wanted Starcrossed, and A Curse as Dark as Gold has not put me off wanting to read Starcrossed.

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In other news, Diana Wynne Jones has died. If you have been reading for a while, you probably know that I adore Diana Wynne Jones. I am crushed. I wanted her to live forever. She wrote magic.