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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Curse Dark as Gold, written by Elizabeth Bunce. Scholastic, 2008. $12.99 ages 12 and up

"I didn't sleep at all that night, and no wonder, I suppose. The festival mood had evaporated, leaving the old cautious Charlotte in its wake. How could I marry Randall Woodstone? I barely knew the man; he certainly did not know me, and I was sure he would not want to. And furthermore, he lived in Harrowgate!"

In her first novel (and I certainly hope it won't be her last!), Elizabeth Bunce has created a dark and wondrous fantasy that I will be sharing with many...of all ages. It is an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; but I have friends who will very much enjoy it and we have not been 'young' adults for far too many years!

The setting of the story is England. The troubles that Charlotte and Rosie share are the result of a debt that their father incurred prior to his death. That is not their only problem; there is also the fact that they are living at a time when women were not expected to run a mill, or appreciated for their ability to do so. A rival mill, equipped with mechanized looms, is giving them a run for business. Stirwaters Mill, on the other hand, is steeped in traditional methods with little money to help them make changes to the way they do business and, therefore, compete. Everything is done by hand, and their textiles and dyes are well-known. A water wheel jams and the mill is threatened with permanent closure. If that happens, the mill town will die, too. The past keeps them shackled, always in financial trouble and never making any headway.

The characters are so well cast and developed that they will live long in my memory. Charlotte is the narrator; strong, determined, independent, rarely seeking help from others as she tries to keep the mill and her friends and neighbors working. It is a huge undertaking for a young woman. She is very stubborn and there were times when I wanted to scream at her, but that is what makes her so believable and memorable. Her love of the mill and her family there is evident in each of her decisions. Rosie is stubborn like her sister, but not quite so level-headed. Our first meeting with their wayward Uncle Wheeler does not auger well for their futures. He reeks of lilacs, and garners distrust at every turn. Jack Spinner (the Rumplestiltskin character) is not evil, or terrifying. We may not like him, but he does have sadness in his past and we come to know his story.

I loved everything about this book, and it will certainly be another of my 'keepers'!

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