Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson



Review: Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson
Goodreads
Rating: I nearly DNFed in the first 100 pages because simply nothing happens. Page upon page of endless gorgeous, ornate description. A heroine who can be a bit of a twit, though I did enjoy the way she matures and strengthens. This book is so visually beautiful, but there simply wasn't enough to grab me. I so wanted to love this one, and I'm kind of heartbroken that I didn't.

Strands of Bronze and Gold (Strands of Bronze and Gold, #1)

The Bluebeard fairy tale retold. . . .

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.



The cover: I LOVE this cover. Love, love, love. Her beautiful hair, her delicate profile, the swirly, embellished bits, the antique coloring, the abbey in the background... I mean, you get the whole mood of the book. This is serious cover lust here. I'm drooling.

The story: I adore fairy tales. I will pretty much pick up anything that's a fairy tale retelling, particularly one that appears to have a darker, more twisted viewpoint, even on a fairy tale already as dark and twisted as Bluebeard, a personal favorite of mine. Strands of Bronze and Gold has been on my radar for a while, and I was so excited for it, which is partly why I was so disappointed by it.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/84/Barbebleue.jpg/220px-Barbebleue.jpg

Don't get me wrong; this is not a bad book. Jane Nickerson seriously has a way with words. The mood, the setting, and even the concept were wonderful. But it took me weeks to read this book. Weeks. I never take that long to read things. I simply couldn't get into this one. I wanted to like Sophia, the main character, who claims to be dreamy and imaginative. But she never felt like a coherent character to me. She was dreamy when required, prudish when necessary, and so on. Sometimes she was naive to the point of eye-rolling. I don't require my heroines to be perfect, and I preferred her when her own imagination got the best of her, and she got caught up in her fairy tale surroundings, but I never felt connected to her emotions. In first person, this is particularly problematic. I mean, you're living in the main character's head. In Sophia's case, it was a pretty head, but it seriously got on my nerves.

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The largest problem I had with SoBaG was the abysmal pacing. How many chapters can I be expected to handle that do nothing but describe jewels, gowns, fabrics, armchairs, wallpaper, ceilings, floor tiles, armoires, twelve course dinners, horse rides, and on and on and on? I was going stir-crazy, I swear. I was enchanted by the descriptions in the beginning. Nickerson has a way with evoking luxury and beauty and implanting a vision in your mind's eye. But seriously, I JUST COULDN'T TAKE IT any longer. There's setting the mood, and then there's drowning in it. I was like, "Can we get to the murdering and haunting and suffering, please? I do not need to know the color and fabric and cut and life story of all twenty-seven of her dresses. Thank you." I probably would have enjoyed this more if I hadn't known there was meant to be murderings afoot, but when you already know the secret but it's being revealed in not-so-steady drips... ACK.

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Also, that amount of sheer over-the-top luxury hanging out in the middle of Chicataw, Mississippi in 1855 just strained my credulity. The level of luxury present in Wyndriven Abbey, which is itself a monastery transplanted in full all the way from England, was really kind of absurd. A lot of it I just straight up couldn't believe. And none of the luxury was disquieting enough. Even as Sophia is ooh-ing and ahh-ing over her (HORRENDOUSLY CREEPY) godfather and his ridiculous wealth, there should have been a few more foreboding details to let you know that all is not right. It felt like Nickerson was attempting that, but it didn't play that way to me. It was all too pretty, and Sophia was too enraptured by it all.

Speaking of too enraptured... dude. Bernard, you are so eggregiously inappropriate, I can't even. On the one hand, I loved it. I thought his character worked as a Bluebeard-esque villian, beguiling at first, but secretly Patrick Bateman on the inside. And so gross and touchy. How Sophia didn't clue into his less-than-honorable desires the very moment he cast a glance at her bosoms, or made her wear a belly dancer costume, or initiated a discussion about how he wished she weren't wearing undergarments, all in the first TWENTY-FOUR HOURS of their meeting, I will never  know. Don't get me wrong-- I loved how wrong that all was. It was supposed to be. He was giving me all the squicky shivers, just as he should have. But Sophia was all, "Oh, my, he's so enchanting! Perhaps I ought to Carpe Diem, as my dearest godfather, who is always so fond of touching me, always says! Why, I do believe I am in love with him, even though he's over forty, is my legal guardian, and has four dead wives all with my red hair. That's normal. It's all so magical!" No, Sophie, it's not. It's like sexual harassment, actually. Stab him with one of the twenty thousand  jewel-encrusted pins he gave you.



Things really picked up once the creep factor got turned up. Once Sophia started to clue in on the fact that things weren't right, that's when I started to get invested in her. If you promise me Bluebeard, you better deliver Bluebeard, because that dude was one crazy ass motherf*cker. I expected creepiness out of Bernard, so I watched him mega closely for the slightest signs of psychopathy. Which is why it is really frustrating when Sophia, an intelligent and articulate girl, doesn't see it at all. The thing is, we know right away that he's super shady, because we've read the back of the book and the fairy tale and he's got a hoop earring, for God's sake, and he for damn sure ain't no Jack Sparrow.

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My apologies.

Mild spoilers for those not familiar with the original Bluebeard tale. Nickerson doesn't actually expand the tale so much as deepen it, really, providing no new twist on the story but a lot more information. It's still the straightforward serial killer and serial husband tale, only with an Antebellum setting, which I love, and a red hair fetish, which skeeved me the hell out in a good way. I'm a sucker for anything historical and anything Southern, so that aspect really worked for me.I think it's a perfect place to set a fairy tale, a place rich with history, atmosphere, and seeeecrets. A psycho obsessed with power and dominance and violence could have no better setting than as a master of a plantation in the deepest reaches of pre-Civil War Mississippi. There are tensions with the slaves, which I loved and which DEFINITELY could have been amped up, and did I mention the visuals? Because they're stellar. I could see every inch of the place, and could feel the humidity like it was there, dripping on the back of my neck.

(I'm not going to get into a long discussion about the treatment of characters of color in this book, since I actually felt Sophie had as modern a view as possible given her time period (except for the part where she feels bad for the field worker slaves because of their SHABBY CLOTHES, I kid you not, I had to put the book down and stare blankly in horror for like a minute). and it felt very historically accurate, though I wish a bit more depth had been given to them and there hadn't been quite as many stock characters. If you want to hear the Book Smugglers talk about it (and they actually object to the "shabby clothes" thing too), click here. If not, carry on.)

I found Bernard actually creepier in the beginning, when he was still playing the role of a fairy tale prince, than at the end, when his dark secrets came unraveled and sinister things were happening. It was chilling, but not as chilling as I'd hoped. He's creepier in the subtle ways, in the brainwashing and the false smiles. I know the original tale so well, and love the horrible way the ending came about, and wish Nickerson had preserved more of it.

Also, INSTA-LOVE ALERT. Major, major insta-love. I get why, because compared to horrid Bernard, any non-murderous, non-abusive, non-racist dude would be nice, but... ugh. You don't fall in love after three meetings. I don't care what era you're in. ALSO IS HER NAME SOPHIE OR SOPHIA THEY CALL HER BOTH THINGS IN THE BOOK AND IN THE SYNOPSIS AND I'M CONFUSED NOW.

This is one of those times where I'm actually encouraging you guys to check out a book that didn't work for me. Most people really loved this one. They did connect to Sophia, and they were enchanted by the beyond-beautiful imagery and Gothic, haunting mystery. I think I was just picking up this book at the wrong time, really. I was staring down at words I know I should have loved, but I just didn't. I was flat-out bored at times. This is definitely a book I will try again at another time, in the hopes that I finally feel that fairy tale love for it.

20 comments:

  1. This looks like a book I would pick up at the bookstore just because of the cover, you know, since I'm shallow like that. But based off your review with the slow pacing, I'm not so thrilled about it. Pacing is huge for me, and I want things to go go go. Thanks for the heads up!

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    1. If you really like you're plot to move, this book might frustrate you. If you're feeling patient, you might want to try it. But I was going a little nuts by page 100 or so.

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  2. I'm reading this one right now and I feel like I'm going down the same path as you. Luscious description gets old after awhile when it's describing the exact same things over and over. Also, I want to smack Sophie/Sophia/What's her name for being so damned obtuse!! Bernard is freaking me out because he reminds me of an evil ex. O_O

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    1. Seriously! How many times do we have to know the house is gorgeous, and the dresses are gorgeous, and the food is gorgeous, and the gardens are gorgeous? And Sophie/Sophia (Seriously, what is her name?) just needed to get a clue wayyyyy earlier. I only started to get invested in her in the second half, when she sort of wised up and things actually started to happen. I'm so sad I didn't love this one.

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    2. We get it! It's ALL GORGEOUS. Now move on and creep us out, please. :P

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  3. AS ALWAYS YOUR REVIEWS UGH ALL THE FEELS. I'm pretty clueless when it comes to historical mores so I probably won't drop the book in horror, but the trudging through details is really really difficult for me. You know. Dog-length attention span and everything.

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    1. THANK YOU. Yeah, I didn't actually get too upset about the "historical mores" aspect. If that's not the kind of stuff you don't look for, it won't even pop up on your radar. The pacing, though? UGH. Maybe I'm like you, and have a dog-length attention span, but I require things to happen in my books at least OCCASIONALLY.

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  4. I feel like this one sounds so good, but something keeps making me not pick it up. I love the old Bluebeard tale though. This review made some really awesome points and it sounds like our Bluebeard stand in is wicked!

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    1. You should give it a shot. It was ultimately a miss for me, but it has a lot going for it and I know other people who loved it.

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  5. SO, SO, SO happy that I read your review. I've been eyeing the cover because I adore it and I love fairytales...but I think I would DNF the book right away...not worth my time. I would go insane with boredom and absolutely frustrated at Sophie (Sophia?) for her stupidity and naivety. Love the review, it definitely freed up my time!

    Sunny @ Blue Sky Bookshelf

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    1. You should try it out, but my first instincts say you'd probably get frustrated and a little bored like I was in the beginning, not to mention roll your eyes at Sophie/Sophie/What's her name.

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  6. I wanted to read this book, until I had a good friend of mine do the job for me, and she said basically the same thing you did! Pacing probs, realism probs... the flowery prose was the only thing she said saved the book. But just like you said, EVERYONE else seems to be in ecstasies over this novel, so what's that all about? I'll spend my time on a book more evenly reviewed, thanks. :)

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    1. Couldn't agree more with your friend. That was precisely my opinion.

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  7. Damn these pretty covers. I want it to be good. GRRRRR.

    Oh man, when you don't connect in first person, it's pretty sad, but I don't feel like I have a better connection rate there than in third. Seems like it should be easier, but good characters are good characters.

    Don't Trust the B! That show was awesome. Why did they cancel it? *is off-topic* Seriously, though, I hate when the description goes off like that. I'm like PLOT YO. I mean, I expect some of that in an epic fantasy or something, but then you get down to the doing of things. There's no need for so much of that.

    Chicataw, Mississippi? Did I just read this right? Why the fuck would this be set in the US? *tilts head* Southern doesn't really work for me. That's rather ironic since I AM southern, but whatever.

    Ew. Instalove. UGHHHHH. I might still try it since it's on my kindle, but, like, meh. Don't really wanna. The sequel (companion, unrelated book) has a gorgeous cover too.

    http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m6fvmtUoNr1rrdwdy.gif

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    1. Cover fraud is really upsetting to me. I feel personally betrayed when it happens.

      I connect regardless of first or third person. You're right, it depends on the strength of the character, but in first person you are LITERALLY inside their head. It should be easier. And yet...

      THAT SHOW WAS AWESOME I DON'T KNOW WHY THEY CANCELLED IT EITHER.

      I couldn't handle the lack of plot movement. I was out of my mind by page 120. Plus, she never leaves that dang abbey, ever. EVER.

      I would have bought a lot more of the plot if it had just taken place in England. See, I LOVE Southern settings, but I don't believe all that splendor and a freaking British abbey being in Mississipi in 1855. England? Possibly. The middle of nowhere deep in the US? Methinks not. And don't get me started on the instalove. You should give it a try, though. A lot of people loved the (admittedly stunning) prose and eerie mood.

      PRETTY COVER IS A PRETTY TRAP.

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  8. I actually loved Strands of Bronze and Gold! I think that the pacing was sort a tantalizing slow build and I didn't get bored at all. It seems like lots of current books feel the need to have constant fast paced action scenes and I get a little tired of that sometimes. When something happens on every page, it doesn't have the same powerful effect as when you have to wait for it. The beautiful writing and suspense was kind of a breath of fresh air to me.
    I guess it just shows how everyone has different things that they like in a book and even the same person can like different things depending on the mood they are in. :)
    I enjoy your blog! Thanks!

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    1. I totally get why you loved this. I almost could have loved it. While I do love fast-paced action, normally I can also appreciate a slow build. Just, to me, this didn't feel like a slow-build situation; it felt static. Possibly if I'd been on vacation, and felt more relaxed, I wouldn't have been as impatient for things to happen, but oh well. But like you said, different opinions! I find them fascinating. :) And yes, the writing was truly beautiful. That I can't deny.

      Thank you!

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  9. When I finished, I so clearly thought I did NOT like this book. It creeped me out and made me uncomfortable and I just didn't know HOW I felt about it. It was my own fault really for not researching the fairytale before diving in! However, I realize, I did like it a bit - the story made me uncomfortable, and that makes sense in the context of the Bluebeard inspiration. The setting was great too!

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  10. I found Sophie's naivete understandable, but an annoying choice by the author. Like, okay, she grew up super sheltered and she's very aware of her low-class. You (Jane Nickerson) did not need to give her this origin story in order to make her THAT naive. She doesn't need to be THAT naive. So that bothered me, too.

    The thing about Sophie and Sophia, though - you're not the first person to mention this, so I'm commenting. I thought it was obvious (but I guess not) that her name was Sophia, and her nickname was Sophie (back then, no way would they shorten it to Soph).

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