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A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

A Curse Dark as Gold (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Elizabeth C. Bunce

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In this book, the main character, Charlotte is faced with a problem and we follow her through the events leading her to meeting Jack Spinner. This man spin straw into gold and is very powerful and tricky. I would use this book with Junior high level students and have them make predictions throughout the book. I could also have them write their own alternate ending of how they wished the book would have ended, or how they think it could have ended differently. ( )
  jennabushong | Mar 14, 2016 |
I didn't finish this. This was too slow and didn't engage my interest.
Too much of a diary style story.

Would recommend to anyone who enjoy's diary style, girl struggling to make it in a man's world book. ( )
  MattMattYS | Nov 2, 2015 |
Well, it is dark, more so than I expected. And the heroine is an authentic teenager (illogical, idealistic, impulsive, innocent, and arrogant) so I (mother of a teen) found most of her behaviors and choices aggravating. The expansion of the idea of the fairy story works well, is plausible. The story & characters & setting are interesting. But somehow I, personally, just didn't feel fully engaged & charmed, and cannot bring myself to give it 4 stars. So, 3.5. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
4 stars usually mean this is something i will want to read again and again. not the case here. part of me wishes i had never started reading it to begin with. despite a happily resolved ending filled with hope and a bright future, with the skeletons of the past peacefully buried, the story is riddled with sinister and violent happenings. the creepy tone that seeps forth from the pages was too all-consuming.

elizabeth bunce did an amazing job with the story telling and i agree with her that this is a much better rendition of rumpelstiltskin. but the stories i read latch themselves firmly on to my being, and it is my nature to prefer novels with more light than darkness, more humor than despair and more hope than fear. to anyone who does not share my easily affected constitution, i would recommend this book.

i disagree with ms bunce as well as many other reviewers regarding the names. i know that in history a lot of people did get their last names from their professions, and this certainly helped me to remember who they were quicker, but i didnt feel that these direct names gave them strength or made them more solid. quite the contrary, i felt that it made them seem more indistinct, like vapor; most of these names, i will not remember or think of again.

charlotte, rosie, and randall are all characters worth knowing and growing attached to. and the messages of honesty, family, forgiveness and justice are all themes we could do with more of in our lives. ( )
  lyssa73 | Aug 2, 2014 |
A Curse As Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce is an adaptation of the fairy tale, Rumplestiltskin. The author has taken this folktale and made it her own in this very creative story. As two young woman take over the family business upon their father’s death they find that the business is tottering on the brink of ruin. Rumours of a family curse have been whispered about down through the ages and it appears that this curse is finally going to bring about the ruin of the Miller family. Charlotte and Rosie discover that their father owed the bank a huge amount of money and payment is now being demanded. They conjure up a “Rumplestiltskin” creature and he helps them pay their loans, repair their cloth when they are vandalized and finally make it possible for them to keep the mill. At first he demands simple payments, but finally he demands Charlottes’ first-born child. In order to save her infant son, Charlotte must finally break the curse on Stillwater Mill.

Based on the woollen industries of Britain and America during the late 1700’s, the author includes a lot of historical research and detail in her story which gives it depth and authenticity, this mixed with the magical portions have produced a very readable story. The author builds the tension slowly. What at first appears to be country superstition soon develops into a full blown evil curse. Her characters are well defined, from the girls slimy uncle to Charlottes almost too-good-to-be-true husband. I found Charlotte to be a little abrasive and too prone to doing things herself. I would have liked for her sister Rosie to have had a larger role.

I enjoyed this book but wonder whether I will remember much about it as time goes by. However, during the reading, A Curse As Dark As Gold struck all the right notes and took one of the darker fairytales and produced a complex story full of light, love and magic. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Jun 27, 2014 |
This felt like a slow start, but it could have been me. I really enjoyed it once I got into it a bit. Nice new take on the Rumpelstiltskin story. You may also like "Straw into Gold" for another completely different approach. ( )
  CharityBradford | Apr 1, 2014 |
This felt like a slow start, but it could have been me. I really enjoyed it once I got into it a bit. Nice new take on the Rumpelstiltskin story. You may also like "Straw into Gold" for another completely different approach. ( )
  CharityBradford | Apr 1, 2014 |
3.5 stars. Overall a decent read with good writing and style, but it dragged a little in the middle and some scenes just felt like so much padding to a story that could have been told in 300 pages instead of 400. I also grew more distant towards the main character instead of growing closer - her decisions were sometimes hard to understand, which wasn't just a matter of different ways of thinking - to me her decisions seemed inconsistent even for *her*, not like logical results of Charlotte's characterization, but means to keep the story on its track, for example when she once more refuses to accept outside help (money) from a certain person, then turns around and pawns off that same person's gift to her without batting an eyelid. This didn't make sense to me at all.

There was also a bit of handwaving going on as she tended to dwell on smaller matters, then briefly think about the more important clues, and then go "ah, but I didn't think more about it then" because she was tired/done thinking/there was a crash outside etc. As a result, she and everyone else in the book managed to ignore the elephant (or one of the elephants) in the room for much longer than neccessary, so it was a little hard to stay patient - there was a lot of buildup and hint-dropping, and then nothing came of it for pages and pages, and I had the feeling it was because the author needed to set up other elements and let some time pass so that everything was in place for the resolution. It just felt inconsistent that matters were so pressing all the time, but at the same time the characters tended to fall into a complacent lull every now and again. Is it the pacing? Was it off? Maybe, but I can't quite put my finger on it. It certainly was a mixed reading experience.

Towards the end things picked up again and everything came to a satisfying conclusion, but there were some elements involved in the ending that smacked a little of deus-exiness and at the same time teetered dangerously close to cheesiness and sometimes even dipped a toe in the well of sap (the whole thing with the dog; the greek chorus of the mill hands, among others), so I wasn't completely content after finishing. And that's why I rounded down! Anyway, it was an ok read, but I won't put the book at the top of my list of recommendations. ( )
  tigerbuns | Jan 10, 2014 |
Rating: 3.5 of 5

Until A Curse Dark as Gold my idea of Rumpelstiltskin was based almost entirely on movie/TV versions of the story. So I rather enjoyed reading this spin on old Rumpel.

Bunce created an imaginary world at once familiar and believable, and filled that world with interesting characters for whom I immediately wanted the best. Charlotte and Rosie Miller were strong-willed, resilient women, who didn't have to be ruthless or overtly masculine to hold their own. However, I didn't enjoy that Charlotte made really stupid decisions, like not accepting help from people who could help her. Or the fact that she doubted her own instincts when it came to Wheeler and Spinner. I dunno, a little inconsistent in her character, maybe.

Overall, most anyone who loves fairy tale retellings, who also don't mind a slow-ish middle (about 150 pages worth), will enjoy this book. ( )
  flying_monkeys | Nov 12, 2013 |
Wow. This fairy tale retelling was engaging! Be aware, it is a bit like normal fantasy novels, so it goes a bit too much into details and does get slow in spots, so first-time fantasy readers may not enjoy the slow pace, but don't worry, when it picks up you will not be able to put it down! This is a Rumpelstiltskin retelling, but just barely. Most of it is very realistic with apparently a ton of research going into wool milling and weaving. It is also a wonderful tale of a strong, bullheaded girl and her sister trying to rise above a family curse and take care of an entire village. ( )
  WickedWoWestwood | Apr 29, 2013 |
Attempt number one was a DNF, I'm having a very, very hard time with Charolotte's close-minded pragmatism. It's not unrealistic, it's just exhausting to read.
  Capnrandm | Apr 15, 2013 |
It felt a little slow to me, and although I read it quickly, I didn't get pulled into it. It seems a little in the vein of [author: Patricia McKillip] but without the gorgeous prose. Still, a pretty good read. Also, our heroine gets to Do Stuff, and not all of it caring stuff. ( )
  GinnyTea | Mar 31, 2013 |
When her father dies, Charlotte Miller knows that his responsibilities have fallen to her - for her younger sister Rosie, for the family mill, for the town of Stirwaters and for its inhabitants whose livelihoods depend on the mill. Charlotte's path won't be an easy one despite the support of the people surrounding her, for there are whispers: whispers of a curse that has haunted both the mill and the Miller family throughout the ages. Set at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and filled with details of the woolen industry, A Curse Dark as Gold may appeal to fans of historical fiction as well as those who love fantasies with detailed, engrossing worlds. While the first two-thirds of the novel is leisurely paced, Bunce sets an eerie, forbidding mood that hangs over the whole and the frantic final third races to the resolution as Charlotte struggles to protect all those she loves. In this reimagining of Rumpelstiltskin, Bunce reveals the answer to the terrible question: "How could a mother bargain away her child?" ( )
  JenJ. | Mar 31, 2013 |
Well there was enough good stuff in here that I will keep an eye out for more by the same author. This author has a gift for description, she often conjured an image of a place or person without bogging down in so much detail that it pulled you out of the action. The characters were interesting and their situations were productive of drama.

But unfortunately the book as a whole was a little uneven. Sometimes the story would move along quickly and then it would suddenly slow to almost a halt for part of a chapter, then pick back up again. Almost as if two different people were writing - with completely different senses of pacing. Then, characters would be inconsistent. Really slow on the uptake one week and then just a little while later they'd be figuring things out like they were Sherlock Holmes. Or one character would be afraid of another, or angry with another, and then a few pages later they would show no sign of the previous emotion.

It wasn't awful, just little problems, but they were impediments that held the book back from being as good as it could have been. There were times I felt like it was turning into something really great, but then it just wouldn't quite get there. Maybe the next one will. ( )
  bunwat | Mar 30, 2013 |
I have posted the entire review on my blog please go and check it out after you read this review


The main plot is very simple and follows the fairytale we all know and love. However there are many other subplots that leave the reader wanting more. I know I definitely did. This story has everything in it from romance to suspense to betrayal. I wish I could go on, I definitely could about this book, but I don't want to give to much of this book away.

I would have to say that the characters really do jump off the page, I could almost feel Charlotte's fear when she almost lost Henry. I could feel Rosie's rage when they found out how their uncle betrayed them and how it could effect them.

I would recommend this book for anybody who loves the twisted fairytales and anyone who loves mystery and very mild romance. ( )
  paigethebookworm | Feb 6, 2013 |
Bibliotherepeutic Uses: demonstrates independence, and with discussion could touch on over-independence
  Shanabrightstar | Dec 19, 2011 |

Charlotte Miller's father has died, leaving her and her sister, Rose, the sole heirs of their family business, the Stirwaters Woolen Mill. Charlotte keeps herself busy taking care of her sister and the Mill - for the whole town relies on the Mill. She manages to keep things in order - for a while. But when something terrible happens, Charlotte must either sell the mill or...sell the mill. But that's when the stranger shows up. Jack Spinner, he calls himself, and he has an incredible talent, one that will put Charlotte, Rose, and the rest of Stirwaters back into business. Jack Spinner spins gold from straw in one night, takes an item precious to Charlotte, and then disappears. But as time progresses, Charlotte's life changes - and she falls in love. And nwe misfortunes fall on the Mill. Jack Spinner keeps coming back to help, but its only a matter of time before he takes something truly important to Charlotte. Something irreplacable. And Charlotte may be the only person with guts enough to figure out why.

My thoughts -
For the majority of the book, all I could think was "Five star! Five star! Five star!" It was seriously such an epicly strange and original tale...I was so hooked. I loved everything about the story, the characters, their hurts and struggles and joys, the conflicts that arose, the beauty of the world Elizabeth Bunce had created.

You may be thinking, "Did it turn bad in the end? Boring? Stupid?" I'm happy to report, "No, it didn't." I did love every moment of the book. However, I was a little disappointed (and more creeped out than I was expecting) with the end. Because the whole book has a leisurely pace, like hot summertime, the end seemed rushed. There are a couple of different ways that it could have been slowed down to match pace with the rest of the book.

This is my only issue. I loved everything else. And, I must say, even the last five or so chapters, with their quick tying up of loose ends, was enjoyable. I just wish she would have kept the pace.

A note on the writing: WHOOHOO!!! Elizabeth C. Bunce - you had me under a spell with your lyrical style and beautiful word choices. The way the author conjures pictures to the readers mind should be a world-wide example to all writers. Within the first 15 pages I knew everything I needed to know about all of the introduced characters, their pasts, the world they lived in, and the direction the story was going. The first paragraph is one of my favorite paragraphs...ever. It is one incredible example of what kind of information should be in a paragraph, plus how you can grip your readers from sentence #1.

Character notes -
The characters were so amazing, down to those who I absolutely hated. Charlotte was immediately defined, as was Rose, and Randall (who has been added to my "favorite male leads" list), Uncle Wheeler, Jack Spinner, all the townspeople, all the contracters. This is a story of friendship, caring for one another, and love. But it is also a story about cheating thieves, backstabbers, and selfish men. Those two groups put together makes for a ridiculously good story with characters I will never forget.

I think what really stood out to me about this book was the tension between characters. It was riveting. Completely engrossing. When Charlotte and Randall began fighting, especially, I was on my seat with anticipation, wondering how it would turn out. A lot of the time I was like, "Ugh, Charlotte, another mistake?" But isn't that how we learn? We make mistakes. Charlotte makes mistakes, Randall makes mistakes. They all had their faults to deal with, things to apologize for, and they all learned something valuable in the end. The healing of broken relationships and hearts is really a wonderful way to end a story. These things, these invaluable, human things, made me love the characters even more.

Story notes -
Like I said above, the story was absolutely amazing until the end. Then it was just good. I didn't love the quickness of it, because the book set me in a nostalgic mood, and then quickly jerked me awake when it totally could have kept going slowly. I'm not complaining though - despite the fastness of the climax, I loved the turnout. The layers tacked on to this story, one at a time, in perfect order, make it hard not to fall in love with.

The story holds superstition, possible ghosts, a creepy guy who spins straw into gold (and then takes what you love most: a gold watch your father gave you, a pair of pearl earrings from your grandmother...your child), lots of accidents (were they really accidents?), and a full cast of characters that will keep you rooting for them until the end.

One word/phrase to sum it up (final thoughts) -
Strange and deliciously beautiful. 'Nuff said.

Do you want to read it yet? I think you should. Will I read it a second time? Yes, most likely. And I'll probably end up buying it, just because 90% of it's one of the loveliest reads I have ever laid my hands on. Recommended to everyone who likes a great, strange, dark, and slightly creepy fairy tale retelling that holds a whole lot of goodness.

For the parents -
There's absolutely nothing to complain about. Charlotte and Randall are married, and they share a bed, but no details are written. She mentions that while they are on their honeymoon, they missed breakfast their first morning together. I can't remember the exact terms she used but it was along those lines...and you know anyway what's going on because they just got married. There are also lots of spooky happenings in this story, especially toward the end. I'd recommend to ages 14 and up. ( )
  yearningtoread | Nov 26, 2011 |
When her father dies, it is up to Charlotte Miller to carry the dying Miller tradition of running the Stirwaters Mill, which many believe is cursed. Things repaired one day fall apart again the next, and mysterious accidents befall workers. Practically minded Charlotte refuses to court such superstitious notions, but with the arrival of a pushy uncle and the incidents that thwart her attempts to ward off those who pressure her for money owed, she is forced to become involved in things beyond her understanding. As Charlotte delves deeper in order to unravel the mystery of the curse on Stirwaters, little does she realize how much is at stake.

I always look forward to fairy tale retellings, and with this one winning the Morris Award for Best Debut YA, I eagerly picked up A CURSE DARK AS GOLD after two years of having this in my TBR pile. Unfortunately, it was pretty much an all-around disappointment, and in rather unexpected ways: for some reason, the way the story was written, and the way it unfolded, really frustrated and repelled me.

A CURSE DARK AS GOLD theoretically had all the elements I like in a story: a unique spin on a fairy tale, a strong female protagonist, and a compelling plot with only the subtly appreciated undertones of romance. However, I wasn’t far into the book before the way the story was playing out began to irk me. Charlotte’s vehement insistence that there was no such thing as a curse soon characterized her as blindly stubborn to me: I like my fair share of headstrong and independent females, but not when they are stubborn in a maddeningly close-minded way. Hints about the malignance of the curse were dropped in the book from here to kingdom come, but it was not until the last fifth of the book that things began to be explained, and I can’t help but think that all stories that are carried forward by the “mysterious and pervasive influence” of a “shocking secret” are kind of gimmicky. The absolute lack of forward progression in the plot regarding the understanding of Stirwaters, the Miller history, and the curse made me so frustrated that I was tempted to put the book down forever and not bother to find out how it ended.

As Charlotte insisted on pulling away from her loved ones in a misguided effort to protect everyone and shoulder the burden herself, I just couldn’t bring myself to empathize with her decisions. There’s a difference between being admirably independent and dumbly mule-headed, and I’m afraid that Charlotte fell on the wrong side of that line.

All in all, A CURSE DARK AS GOLD was actually too light on the Rumpelstiltskin retellings, rendering itself more just a supposedly spooky and tense story of desperation and redemption that turned out not to be my thing, mainly because of my dislike of the main character for her mule-headedness and the way the plot unfolded. These criticisms I have, of course, are far more subjective than my usual ones, and so if you think that these two points won’t bother you as much as they did me, then I encourage you to give this award-winning book a try. Many important people obviously thought it was a great work, so there is the likelihood that I am in the minority on this one. ( )
  stephxsu | Oct 5, 2011 |
Rumpelstiltskin was always one of the creepier fairy tales. Growing up, who didn’t cower when they heard his requests? With A Curse Dark as Gold, I love the fact that Elizabeth C. Bunce chose to retell the tale in her own unique way. Even better, the book takes place during the Industrial Revolution. Fans of fairy tales with historical twists such as Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days will eat this novel up. I also love that Bunce’s rendering has a life of its own; "Rumpelstiltskin" himself does not exist in the same form. As Bunce says in her Author’s Note, she was inspired by “Name of the Helper” tales, not just the famous German version we all grew up with. Even more interesting, “naming” doesn’t really play a role in this novel.

The book centers around Charlotte Miller after her father dies, leaving her and her younger sister, Rosie, to run the mill. The old place is falling apart and never allows itself to be properly fixed, leaving the workers to whisper about curses and otherworldly creatures. Charlotte believes their mutterings to be nothing more than superstition, convinced that everything has been one long string of bad luck that has kept the mill from running fluidly. The girls are soon joined by Uncle Wheeler, who seems benevolent on the surface, but is hiding his own secrets. At first, the girls are happy to have his help—until it becomes apparent that he’d rather sell the mill and marry them off. It’s up to Charlotte to take matters into her own hands and keep the mill running. Along the way, she’s met with more bad luck, but also happy coincidences. We watch her marry and have a baby. All isn’t as happy as it seems, however. Someone is trying to ruin the mill, and each time the sabotage is discovered, Charlotte must turn to the mysterious Jack Spinner for help. Eventually, Jack asks for something so priceless in exchange that Charlotte will do whatever it takes to find out the truth behind the mill’s run of bad luck.

A Curse Dark as Gold is beautiful and lyrical, full of descriptions you want to highlight and hold close to your heart. The book is also grounded in reality; Charlotte doesn’t believe the superstitious stories everyone tells, and when she explains why each new scenario is bad luck, it’s easy to believe her logic. Bunce is such a deft reader, that readers are left wondering whether occurrences are supernatural or real just like all of the characters. The novel also consists of strong character development. Jack Spinner is properly creepy, and you’re always on your toes around Uncle Wheeler. You cheer for Charlotte when she finds happiness, but want to throttle her when she holds her secrets close to her chest, refusing to confide in anyone. Even more minor characters have roles to play, and the way Bunce resorts to using last names based on a person’s position the way it used to be helps keep everyone straight. The book starts off slow, but picks up in speed, especially at the end. Along the way, it’s a beautiful story full of historical context with just the right mix of fairy tale thrown in. ( )
  abackwardsstory | Apr 29, 2011 |
This novel set in the 1700's is based on the old Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale. “A Curse Dark As Gold” by Elizabeth C. Bunce was selected as one of the "2009 Kansas Notable Books" and one I very much enjoyed reading.

Two teen-age sisters left alone after the death of their father and living on a shoestring must decide if they will try to keep the family woolen mill running despite its taxing work and overwhelming mortgage or sell it and cut their losses. Charlotte, the elder sister determined to keep the mill in the family, must deal not only with running the mill but worries about all the jobs that would be lost if the mill closed. Along with this she has to deal with the townsfolk and employees superstitious beliefs that the mill is cursed.

Shortly after their father's death arrives their mother's uncle decked out in silk and lace come to the rescue and ready to take charge of the girl's situation. He moves into the home and quickly sets himself up as head of the house. However, Charlotte questions his motives and authority from the beginning.

With money tight and the mortgage due a mysterious little man appears that claims to be able to spin straw into gold offering his services. The young ladies must decide if his talent is worth the asking price.

Once I started this book it was really hard to put it down until the final word...then I wished the story had not ended. ( )
  cjbh | Apr 21, 2011 |
This book had so many great parts, I can't choose a favorite. I really enjoyed finding all the clues with Charlotte. While reading this book, I could actually picture myself as Charlotte. I think my favorite scene is when Charlotte sees the ghosts reenacting the moment when John Simple became so much more. It was so sad and unjust. The horror of the way he was taken advantage of and then done away with. It's no wonder he reacted the way he did.
  fuchsia.fox | Mar 7, 2011 |
I LOVED this book. The characters came to life. Definitely recommended. A novel twist on the folklore of Rumpelstiltskin. ( )
  SheilaCornelisse | Mar 1, 2011 |
Charlotte and Rosie Miller's father passed away and they are heir to the mill at Stirwaters. It is unheard of in the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Try as they might to make a go of it, the Miller curse seems to be rearing its head. Things break. Unknown loans come due for payment. People set fire to the mill and its wares. The final straw is the appearance of the Miller's Uncle Wheeler, who apparently was asked by their father to take care of the girls if something should happen to him. Unfortunately, he is there to take advantage, not help the situation.

It is a time of superstition and hexes, curses and fairies. Rosie, in a fit of desperation, tries a bit of magic and Rumplestiltskin, in the form of Jack Spinner appears and, overnight, turns straw into gold thread that Charlotte and sell and stave off the first of several foreclosure threats. But, of course, Jack Spinner wants something in return for his services and payment can be very steep.

While I thought A Curse Dark as Gold started off well, it dragged on much too long for me. There wasn't enough action or magic to hold my interest and I put it down after reading 300 out of 400 pages, the last 100 or so included some skimming. While I thought Bunce's idea was interesting, because I like retelling fairytales, this dragged on a bit too long. Editing out 100 pages would have/could have made this book quite a bit better.

On the plus side, the characters were good. I liked who I was supposed to like: the townspeople, Charlotte and Rosie, Biddy Tom (the town's nurse, spell caster, etc.), Randall (Charlotte's husband and the banker who called the first loan). I disliked who I was supposed to dislike, namely Uncle Wheeler. However, it wasn't enough to sustain the book. ( )
  EdGoldberg | Oct 4, 2010 |
This was a retelling of Rumplestiltskin. I loved that the main characters, Charlotte and Rosie, were strong girls. They took over the mill after their father's death. There were some strong parts to this book that I loved, but there were other parts that were a little slow moving for my taste.
Of course, you kind of knew what was going to come in the end, but I felt that the ending was really well done.
Overall, I think this one would be perfect for anyone who loves reading retold fairytales, like I do. I am not sure if this one would have the appeal to mainstream young adults, but it was a great story. ( )
  taramatchi | Jul 6, 2010 |
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