8 out of 10
The gold thread shimmers in the fading light . . .
It promises Charlotte Miller a way out of debt, a chance to save her family’s beloved woolen mill. It promises a future for her sister, livelihood for her townsfolk, security against her sinuous and grasping uncle. It might even promise what she didn’t know she needed: lasting hope and true love.
But at what cost?
To get the thread, Charlotte must strike a bargain with its maker, the mysterious Jack Spinner. But the gleam of gold conjures a shadowy past — secrets and bonds ensnaring generations of Millers. And Charlotte’s mill, her family, her friends, her love . . . What do those matter to a powerful stranger who can spin straw into gold? (from book jacket)
Commentary: My experience with novels that are fairytale retellings has generally been positive–East by Edith Pattou, various others by Robin McKinley, Juliet Marillier, etc–and this was no exception. If you couldn’t get it from the summary, Dark as Gold is a retelling of the traditional Rumpelstilskin myth. You know, the one where the strange little goblin man spins straw into gold three times, and asks for the nameless girl’s firstborn child as payment. In order to save her baby, the girl has to guess his name, she wins through some supernatural method, yada yada, everyone’s happy, the end.
I’ve always had several problems with this story–number one being who the heck was Rumpelstilskin? Why did he want her baby? Why did he even offer to help the girl in the first place?
Bunce’s novel fleshes out the myth and has a great story to answer all the questions. This isn’t your usual happy-go-lucky fairy tale though. There’s a sinister undercurrent running throughout the story in the form of unexplainable, supernatural happenings, amplified by the skin-of-your-teeth desperation from Charlotte and her sister in their attempts to keep their beloved family mill running.
The story Bunce creates is well-formed and solid–I can’t find anything wrong with it. The setting is a nice little village in a world on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution; there’s a bit of Big Evil Factory vs. Cute Handmade Peasant Things. But the nostalgia and politicking was kept low and didn’t overshadow the main plot. It takes a little bit to get started, about a 100 pages or so, but once it gets going, it really gets going. The plot moved along really well, and the twists in the story, while I could occasionally predict and see coming, were still interesting and entertaining.
Charlotte was a good, strong heroine, although at times I couldn’t exactly understand a lot of her motives for making decisions that she did. Jack Spinner, aka Rumpelstilskin, was fascinating and gave a really great backstory to all the questions I asked earlier. The romance was also fun and engaging–something I really liked about what Bunce did was that in many novels, the marriage/big get-together is The End, the Final Climax, and doesn’t happen till near the wrapping-up of the novel. However, Bunce showed that romance can and does continue even after the wedding, that marriage isn’t the end of the romance story (as it is so often in so man novels), but that it continues on afterwards.
My final words are: Great story, great idea, great characters, definitely worth your time. It’s classified as Young Adult or Teen fiction, but adults will be able to enjoy this as well.