Strands Of Bronze And Gold | Jane Nickerson | Book Review

I am almost always down for fairy tale retellings. Seriously — if a book has just a whiff of being a retelling, I will get my hands on it, most especially if the book is young adult. So it follows that I would be BEYOND excited for Strands of Bronze And Gold by Jane Nickerson, a debut author. For the most part, I quite liked this retelling of the Bluebeard fairytale, but I had a few quibbles mainly because other people brought some issues up and on reflection — yes I agree. ALSO! You guys, I totally had to go wikipedia the Bluebeard fairytale because for some odd reason I was thinking pirates and Treasure Island but LOL that’s BLACKbeard not BLUEbeard. Okay, that aside I am sure you totally want to know what Strands of Bronze And Gold is all about. Read on, friend, read on.

Strands Of Bronze And Gold Jane Nickerson Book Cover

Sophia Petheram’s dad dies — leaving her and her siblings orphans. Unfortunately he doesn’t leave them a fortune but tons of debt. However, lucky for Sophie, her godfather Monsieur de Cressac steps in to take guardianship over her. Cressac is fabulously wealthy, FYI. And so, Strands Of Bronze And Gold opens with Sophia making the journey from Boston to Mississippi. Also? This book is set in the antebellum South — meaning Monsieur de Cressac has slaves. This comes as a culture shock to Sophia. Upon arrival Cressac lavishes all these gowns and jewels upon Sophia — she loves them at first but gradually becomes more and more uncomfortable. As de Cressac as the only person who is really suitable for Sophia to socialize with — she starts to get a crush on him. OH OH and he totally isolates her and won’t let her talk to anyone and punishes the slaves if they get friendly with her. ALSO! ALSO! All of de Cressac’s previous wives have died. So, yeah, as we all know he’s totally hiding a secret and it’s up to Sophia to find out that secret and get the hell out of dodge.

I did not mind the main character of Strands Of Bronze And Gold because she shows growth. Sophia starts the book as a kind of petulant, vain and silly girl. Yet, she matures and realizes there are more important things than fashion and dresses. She also is allowed to change her mind and grow — I like that she has a misguided crush but then actually is allowed to have a realization about how much her crush sucks. Sorry y’all, but he totally does suck. I liked that Sophia was clever. I also liked that she had an inner strength and we saw moments where she has a spine and doesn’t back down to Monsieur de Cressac. So really, what I am trying to say is that Jane Nickerson wrote a main character who didn’t annoy me. Way to go.

I think my very favorite thing about Strands Of Bronze And Gold was the mood the permeated the pages. Nickerson does mood very, very well. You see, as I read I just got this sense of suffocation and the walls closing in — much like Sophia. As a reader, I started off much like Sophia – digging on all the new clothes thinking for an old, Monsieur de Cressac is kind of hot. BUT THEN. He starts to act totally sketchy and you start to see him isolate her and it’s like WHOA HOLD THE PHONE THIS GUY IS BAD. And as he takes away her chances to communicate with people who don’t live at Wyndriven Abbey – you start to feel oppressed. Or at least I did, vicariously. The mood was so strong and overwhelming in this book that I often wanted to stop reading and catch my breath. And no, I am totally not over exaggerating — I just have a lot of feelings y’all.

As for the setting and the time frame of antebellum era Mississippi — I didn’t really think much about it until I saw the Book Smugglers tweeting about how this book portrays Black people. So, because I don’t read in a vacuum, I started to think a lot more deeply about the book as I was reading it, and do concur that it is a problematic element. I realized that one of the people of color mentioned, Anarchy totally falls into the Mammy role. She is super protective and nurturing of Sophia and puts herself at risk to protect Sophia and is totally stereotypical. So, yeah, definitely not cool about that. And I think it’s stupid on my part to not even be aware/think about those things — obviously because of my privilege I don’t think about stuff like that and it really is something I need to work on as a person.

So anyways, on the merits of writing and mood, I very much enjoyed Strands Of Bronze And Gold by Jane Nickerson. I thought Sophia was an interesting lead character and someone I empathized with. However, it’s definitely not okay to rely on stereotypes when writing characters of color and so, that definitely took away from my enjoyment of the book. Don’t get me wrong, I am open to checking out future books by the author, but I think that it’s good to go in with an awareness of what might be problematic.

Disclosure: Received for review via Netgalley

Other reviews of Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson:

The Book Smugglers – “Unfortunately all of it was hugely disappointing.
Bunbury In The Stacks – “reflects with frightening accuracy how any young woman can become ensnared in an abusive relationship
Great Imaginations – “It’s creepy, disturbing, unsettling, full of gothicky goodness

About April (Books&Wine)

April is 28 years old and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. In her free time she can be found reading, working out, or eating junk food. She often wears her sunglasses at night.

Comments

  1. I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about this book. I was really looking forward to reading it before all of them. I like a good retelling, particularly of something as uncommon as Bluebeard, and I’d love a good gothic creepy tale. I think I’m still going to have to try this book out and hope for the best. But I’ll keep in mind all your points. Stereotypes aren’t great in stories at any point, but in this case … that’s a pretty bad factor to add. Great review.

    • Yah, the reviews are all over the place with my friends. Some have praised it to the ceiling. Others have DNFed it.

      Me too, retellings are awesome, especially when it’ s something outside the Cinderella norm. Gothic tales are THE BEST.

      I hope you do actually enjoy this book.

      Thank you 🙂

  2. I’m so torn about this book. I usually don’t like retellings…they always disappoint me and I was hoping this book wasn’t going to do that. On one hand, I like the mood and the setting, but I’m not liking the idea of the stereotyping. I’ll have to think about this further before I pick up a copy of the book. And your comment about Bluebeard vs. Blackbeard cracked me up! 🙂 Great honest review, April!

  3. You know, it’s unfortunate that this whole unfortunate implications regarding black characters happens a lot in fiction. It’s even in the Beautiful Creatures series (which I do like), Amma and Marion are the only characters who don’t seem to have family and exist purely to help Ethan. And as someone who is black, it can be hard to see this kind of thing in fiction.

    I don’t think I’ll buy this book, mostly because I don’t really like to read books with slavery. I mean, I’ve read enough of that in high school and college so I don’t include it in my leisure reading. But, I may pick it up at the library or something because I am not familiar with this retelling and the way you described the writing sounds fascinating.

  4. I have been waffling back and forth on whether or not I want to read this. The stereotypes SUCK, which makes me feel sad. I’m also wondering if it would have been something I would have noticed if I didn’t read you thoughts on it.

    Anyway, thanks for the review. I’m a sucker for fairytale retellings too. And often my favorites are ones based on fairytales I don’t know very well.

  5. This book takes place when slavery was common in the South. So, isn’t the portrayal of black people accurate historically? I don’t see how you can call it stereotyping when that’s the way things were, right? It’s not set in the present day.

    And, “the walls closing in” is a great way to put it. I thought that growing feeling throughout the book was the best part too.

  6. “I don’t see how you can call it stereotyping when that’s the way things were, right? ”

    The problem here is how the PoC characters are portrayed and written – not as real people, not as characters with agency. None of them go beyond fitting preset characteristics that fit within preconceived and unrealistic notions of what slavery was and how PoC characters have been portrayed historically – this is true about tropes like the Mammy trope that April refers to. All of the PoC characters in the book were there to sustain the white characters’ arcs and nothing more. THAT is the problem with this book.

  7. I thought the slavery was portrayed pretty accurately, and even though Anarchy fell into that stereotype, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I’m not saying that it’s right to stereotype, but stereotypes exist because in many cases they’re accurate. And even though she was stereotypical, she ended up being my favorite character.

  8. I actually requested this book on NG for the same reason as you – I enjoy retellings. I’m trying to reserve judgment on the book until I read it, but the mixed reviews (some good, some bad) are making me extra curious. I do like that you ended up appreciating the main character and atmospherics, so I’m looking forward to encountering that myself.

  9. Bwahaha, I cannot imagine your confusion if you went into this one thinking Blackbeard. 😀

    I didn’t really notice the stereotyping while I was reading it, but upon reflection I can definitely see where it’s coming from. I know when I started reading a read flag went up for me when she said things like “Chinese man” instead of “Chinaman”, because even the most politically correct people of her time would not use the same language we would today. I did feel like this got better as the book went, but I also see the problems you/Ana mentioned with stereotyping.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the atmosphere and Sophia though! I also liked that she initially develops a crush before realizing how wrong she was–the story was more real for me that way. I’m looking forward to seeing her next book, which is supposed to be a Tam Lin retelling, and I’m hoping that she irons out some of the problems that persisted in her debut.

    Thanks for the review love, April!

  10. Thanks for linking up to me once again, April! I <3 you. And I love the quote you used too. It's my favorite.

    I agree with a lot of your assessments here. Uh you are not alone at first in thinking this was about Blackbeard. I still enjoyed it anyway though once I looked the dang thing up. Ha!

    I also agree that this book was loaded with atmosphere to an extreme degree. That was my favorite part about the book. *coughs* Gothicky goodness, y'all!

    Agreed about the stereotypes as well. I felt the minorities were just there to develop the protagonist's character and kindness. I'm not really okay with that!

  11. Thanks for the honest review, April.
    I don’t really like the Bluebeard fairy tale – I actually just came to know it recently when I read a different retelling – so I’m not sure I would like this.

    The whole mood thing sounds pretty appealing but I would probably have a problem with how the book portrays black people as well.

    Anyway, thanks for the review 😉

  12. I love that you originally thought Blackbeard and pirates for this book-haha! I’m so glad the Book Smugglers put the problematic depiction of POCs into words; I thought there was something off but aren’t nearly as eloquent as they are.

  13. Ah, man! I’m sad to hear about the stereotypes and I can totally see how that detracts from your reading experience. I’m going to go into this with an open mind – I’m excited to see what I think! Thanks for the review, April 🙂

Trackbacks

  1. […] The Mirk And Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson is a retelling of Tam Lin, the Scottish ballad. This audiobook appealed to me because it is a retelling with a unique time and place setting. I mean, usually retellings are set in fairytale worlds or they seem to be set in the modern world.The Mirk And Midnight Hour is set during the Civil War era, which is definitely one of my favorite eras to read about — there’s so much drama and human interest and a lot of bigger questions, ya know? So, with eager ears, I began to listen to Nickerson’s latest book and it turns out that I really, really liked it. In fact I liked it way more thanStrands Of Bronze And Gold. […]

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