A Curse Dark as Gold

A Curse Dark as Gold

4.0 55
by Elizabeth Bunce

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This ravishing winner of the ALA's William C. Morris YA Debut Award is a fairy tale, spun with a mystery, woven with a family story, and shot through with romance.

Charlotte Miller has always scoffed at talk of a curse on her family's woolen mill, which holds her beloved small town together. But after her father's death, the bad luck piles up: departing

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This ravishing winner of the ALA's William C. Morris YA Debut Award is a fairy tale, spun with a mystery, woven with a family story, and shot through with romance.

Charlotte Miller has always scoffed at talk of a curse on her family's woolen mill, which holds her beloved small town together. But after her father's death, the bad luck piles up: departing workers, impossible debts, an overbearing uncle. Then a stranger named Jack Spinner offers a tempting proposition: He can turn straw into gold thread, for the small price of her mother's ring. As Charlotte is drawn deeper into her bargains with Spinner-and a romance with the local banker-she must unravel the truth of the curse on the mill and save the community she's always called home.

Editorial Reviews

AGERANGE: Ages 12 to 18.

In this retelling of “Rumplestilskin,” readers are taken into the life of a young maiden and her reasons for accepting help from a strange man who has the ability to spin gold. Charlotte Miller is the oldest of two daughters and she is now in charge of the Stirwater Mill. As a woman she faces a tough uphill battle to produce textiles and get them sold in the market. This is made all the more difficult by the realization that it is her family business that keeps most of the families employed. So with both family pride and civic loyalty, Charlotte and her sister Rosie use the unbelievable gold thread to keep the mill going after their father’s death and do not ask too many questions about how it came to be. In fact, they use mystery man Jack Spinner’s help twice to solve unsolvable financial problems. In the midst of their difficulties, their uncle arrives to “chaperone” the young women, but despite his fancy clothes and city connections there is something about him that Charlotte does not trust. It is not until Charlotte has married a local banker and has a child that she realizes her uncle’s motives, and the cost of Spinner’s help. At that point she must solve the mystery of Spinner’s identity and his tie to her family’s mill in order to save her son. This is a rich, compelling story that fleshes out the fairy tale, setting it in the nonspecific past of the Industrial Revolution. Readers unfamiliar with “Rumplestilskin” will not be at a disadvantage here; they will be drawn into the mystery of the mill, its supposed curse and the little man who offers unconventional assistance. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)

Children's Literature
AGERANGE: Ages 12 up.

After her father's death, Charlotte Miller, the eldest of two surviving daughters, becomes the owner and operator of Stirwaters, the family mill. Charlotte is determined not to let down her family or the entire village, which depends on the mill for its survival. As she diligently prepares for the upcoming mill season, a man from Pinchfields, a nearby industrialized mill, surprises Charlotte with an offer to buy Stirwaters and its prestigious label. The sale would leave the villagers without work and the family business in the hands of strangers. Charlotte adamantly refuses Pinchfields' offer and begins fixing up the aging mill in hopes of a productive season. During the repair process, a sign falls onto one of her workers, causing serious harm. Not only does her worker get injured but the repairs mysteriously undo right back the way they were. After these events, rumors of an age-old Stirwaters Curse buzz around Charlotte's ears. Even after Charlotte discovers that her father mortgaged the mill and that the mill's stall at the annual market has been revoked, Charlotte refuses to believe in any curses. When more mysterious problems arise, Charlotte makes a deal with a strange magical man to save the mill, bringing the family curse she so vehemently wants to disbelieve into the very center of her life. Set in a quaint eighteenth-century village, this fresh retelling of Rumpelstiltskin is beautifully told, with a vivid historical setting, endearing characters, and a suspenseful and unpredictable plot. Bunce spins an innovative and believable story that captures the heart and magic of the original fairytale. The well-crafted writing grabs readers from the firstparagraph and keeps them hanging for the ride. Reviewer: Melissa Joy Adams

VOYA - Lauri J. Vaughan
The story of Charlotte Miller is an old one-orphaned daughter beset by overwhelming debt left by loving but idiosyncratic father. To reconcile the mortgage on her family's wool mill, the nearly grown girl confronts a peculiar man, a curse, and the mystery of what brought it upon her. Bunce includes a cloying uncle, a prince-like banker, a headstrong sister, and a community of colorful citizens in her remaking of the Rumpelstiltskin tale. Although both the dialogue and characters feel a bit stock at times, they are solidly drawn. The setting plays a significant role, and the mill itself takes on a forceful personality. The plot's pacing is expertly handled and both the mystery and romance lure the reader through its many pages. Bunce enlivens her tale with rich detail of the eighteenth-century weaving trade, and the novel reads closer to finely tuned historical fiction than fantasy. The fantastic elements work where they might feel out of place if they were not so carefully integrated. Charlotte and her sister Rosie have distinctive personalities that are not over drawn. Bunce's rendering of Charlotte is particularly good, and the girl's coming-of-age is handled lovingly. A few too many threads are left dangling near the end. Still this first novel shows off well and will leave readers eager for an even stronger second. Reviewer: Lauri J. Vaughan
VOYA - Denzil Sikka
The fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin has nothing on this novel about the overly burdened heroine Charlotte Miller, her sister Rosellen, and their mysterious benefactor Jack Spinner. Despite the slow start, the book quickly compensates with the building crises faced by the protagonist and her village of Stirwaters. Bunce spins a captivating read that not only stuns with an unpredictable and unforeseen ending but also leaves the reader craving more of her work. Reviewer: Denzil Sikka, Teen Reviewer
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up- Too stubborn to let go of the troubled mill that has supported her community for generations, Charlotte Miller takes over after her father's death, fighting impending disaster with bargains with a mysterious Jack Spinner that eventually threaten her infant son. Set in a rural valley in the late 1700s, this reworking of the "Rumplestiltskin" story includes ghosts, witchcraft, elements of Georgian society, and much earlier folk magic in the guise of a novel of manners. The leisurely paced narrative gathers steam as it becomes clear that the family and the mill have not simply had a long run of bad luck, but are seriously cursed. Readers need not be familiar with the folktale to see where Charlotte's efforts to save her mill are headed. Though their roles in the narrative are clear, secondary characters are distinctive: foppish Uncle Wheeler is more than a stereotyped villain, and Charlotte's eventual husband is an admirable romantic lead with unsuspected talents. A rich opening to Jane Austen's world for teens.-Kathleen Isaacs, Towson University, MD

Kirkus Reviews
In a hefty, thoughtful Rumpelstiltskin tale, Charlotte Miller fights and strains and sacrifices to embody her surname. The Miller family runs Stirwaters, a river-powered textile mill in a pre-industrial village. It's been passed down haphazardly because no Miller son ever lives to inherit it. Charlotte and sister Rosie take over upon their father's death, but troubles persist. Non-superstitious Charlotte resists the idea of a family curse; she insists the ongoing destruction is simply bad luck and vandalism. A perfumed, dandy uncle arrives to wrest power away from the sisters. Bunce writes the mill as a character too, bound into the family "by loss and grief and vengeance." As stubborn Charlotte fiercely defends Stirwaters against physical and financial ruin, misguided habits of secrecy and fear lead to a near-loss of her infant son to the Rumpelstiltskin figure, a classic tortured ghost from ages past. His origins unravel the tangled mystery. Slow pacing and a protagonist with infuriating secretiveness may deter some readers, but those who stick it out will find substance and beauty. (author's note) (Fantasy. YA)
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
After the death of their father, Charlotte Miller and her sister inherit the family woolen mill, Stirwaters, which is the main employer in their small English countryside village. Strange events cause Charlotte to believe that Stirwaters is indeed cursed. When Jack Spinner appears one day and offers to spin gold thread, Charlotte agrees to his price. Eventually, when Jack requires the payment of Charlotte's first-born son, she undertakes to end the curse once and for all to save her son and the mill. It is very evident that actress and seasoned audiobook reader Parry spent a great deal of time preparing for this story. The distinctive voices she created for the character perfectly suits each personality, station in life, and carefully chosen name. Parry aptly varies the pace with the action of the story. The occasional humor in conversations between characters comes through very naturally. It is a nuance that could have been lost by a less seasoned reader. Although this is historical fiction set at the dawn of the industrial revolution, the fantasy and magical elements of this Rumpelstiltskin tale works beautifully with the romance and mystery of the story. All these elements come together seamlessly and, I dare say, logically within the storytelling. This unabridged audio book is comprised of 10 compact discs with a running time of 12 hours and 26 minutes. While a little slow at the beginning as Bunce sets the scene, the action picks up quickly. Listeners are rewarded with a well-written and well-read suspenseful tale. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo

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Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)
840L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Elizabeth C. Bunce's first novel, A CURSE DARK AS GOLD, won the ALA's William C. Morris Award for a YA debut. Elizabeth cuts, sews, and embroiders both cloth and stories at her home near Kansas City, Missouri. Please visit her website at www.elizabethcbunce.com.

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A Curse Dark as Gold (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Since her father's death, the fate of the Miller family woolen mill and that of the Shearing village rests on Charlotte's shoulders. An unexpected and seemingly insurmountable debt leads to a difficult choice for the normally practical and levelheaded miller's daughter.

Must she take the offer of the strange little man who can weave straw into gold, or can she make her own way through the maze of ill luck and deceit that seems her family legacy?

Elizabeth C. Bunce's A CURSE DARK AS GOLD is worth its own weight in gold and then some. A folkloric re-telling beyond Rumpelstiltskin proportions, this tale weaves the best storytelling techniques into a fine tapestry of intrigue, drama, and romance.

The tight writing never wavers. Gorgeous, consistent language abounds, like, "I sank to my knees in a sea of crumpled flannel and pressed my hands into the sharp shale of the yard, as if bites from the stones could remind me of who I was."

And just who is Charlotte Miller? Certainly one of the most fascinating characters I've come across of late. If not self-confident at the beginning of our story, she is at least confident in what she knows: the mill cannot go under and the families of Shearing cannot be allowed to starve or scatter to the winds. As she is the only one around to prevent these happenings, Charlotte will do what she must to prevent them. And so she does.

As time goes on, and with Pinchfields Mill of Harrowgate nipping at her heels, Charlotte's choices become ever more difficult and the stakes are raised as she struggles through crisis after crisis. Charlotte's resolve to dismiss the very idea of the Miller Curse crumbles into a pile of wasted wishes as the harsh reality of the unreal comes to be. She is forced to play the hand that's dealt, facing sinister forces she once easily dismissed.

A strong protagonist indeed.

Every word counts in this amazing book. The language, while assuredly stunning and appealing, is never frivolous. It's hard to believe this is a debut novel, and I eagerly await whatever Ms. Bunce wishes to put in front of me next, as it's sure to be delightful and satisfying if it's near the quality of A CURSE DARK AS GOLD.
slimikin More than 1 year ago
There are several fairy tales that lend themselves well to a retelling or reinterpretation, but "Rumpelstiltskin" usually isn't one of them. I've encountered quite a few attempts, and they all end up rather nonsensical, just like the original story. This is the first retelling I've read that really, truly breathes life and purpose into the bare, twisted bones of Rumpelstiltskin's tale. It starts a little slow, but Bunce builds the suspense, and sense of menace, superbly in that easy pace, leading at length to an ending that is exactly what an ending should be. I won't say more than that for fear of ruining your own experience of the novel, but I recommend this to anyone who has enjoyed Laura Whitcomb's A Certain Slant of Light or Katharine Eliska Kimbriel's Night Calls.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A Curse as Dark as Gold was a wonderful read. It has a strong heroine, great characters and a plot that pulls you along. The book gets more and more gripping as it goes. By the end I could not put it down. I would highly recommend it to anyone, adult or teen.
Bonnie_W More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Set in the fictional eighteenth-century town of Shearing, A Curse Dark as Gold is a complex tale of magic, greed, love, and redemption inspired by the fairytale ¿Rumpelstiltskin.¿ Stirwaters mill is the town¿s heart. When James Miller dies without a male heir, the mill falls to his two young daughters, Charlotte and Rosie. Charlotte takes on the responsibility of running the mill, realizing that without it the town will die and the populace will be hard pressed to make ends meet. Although the girls know much about the mill¿s operation, they find that many aren¿t willing to do business with women. Also, a rival mill in a nearby town would like to eliminate the competition. Add to that the mill¿s proclivity to drop signs on innocent bystanders and refuse repairs to cracks and crevices, which reappear overnight. There are rumors that the mill is cursed, but Charlotte won¿t believe it. And the local superstitions are nonsense, of course. Like the miller¿s daughter in ¿Rumpelstiltskin,¿ Charlotte must do the impossible. She accepts help from a mysterious man, Jack Spinner, who offers her a way out. For her mother¿s cheap ring, he¿ll spin straw into golden thread. The next time, the price is a bit dearer. But it¿s only jewelry and compared to the livelihood of a town, it seems a small price. And the final price? Maybe more than Charlotte can pay. But what connection does this man have to the mill and the bad fortune that plagues it? Charlotte needs to figure that out to save her mill, her town, and her family. Elizabeth Bunce has an amazing talent for immersing the reader in her setting. The town and mill fairly reek of old England, as do her characters. Charlotte is head-strong and determined. Rosie is charmingly impulsive. Uncle Wheeler is delightfully arrogant and wicked, and the numerous townsfolk fit into the story perfectly. Ms. Bunce has used ordinary words to spin a finely crafted work of art¿A Curse Dark as Gold.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ms. Bunce has turned an old fairy tales into a beautifully written, well researched novel, not only for young adults, but people who love fantasy and enjoy trying to figure out how the book is going to end. But then you don't want it to end. The writing is tight, flawless, and she doesn't waste a work telling a wonderful story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw the cover of the book and couldn't wait to read it. Some of the good reviews didn't do it justice. Such an amazing retelling of such an old and well known story, that you think there could be nothing new. This is better than you could imagine and you will love the book
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
When their father dies suddenly, Charlotte Miller and her younger sister Rose are left in charge of the family mill. With it comes the large responsibility of seeing to the mill's numerous employees as well. The Millers are not known for their good fortune. Some even claim that the family has been cursed though Charlotte is loathe to put any stock in such silly superstitions. Still, the mill's usual problems seem to multiply dangerously after Charlotte takes charge. Mending broken equipment and painting faded walls can only go so far, however, when Charlotte learns that her father also left behind a shocking debt. Desperate to save the mill and protect those who work there, Charlotte enters into a dangerous bargain with a man known merely as Jack Spinner. But every bargain comes with a price. As the stakes grow higher, Charlotte begins to realize that saving her mill may jeopardize everyone she holds dear in A Curse as Dark as Gold (2008) by Elizabeth C. Bunce. A Curse as Dark as Gold is a loose retelling of the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin. It is Bunce's first novel and winner of the 2009 William C. Morris Debut Award. A Curse as Dark as Gold is a lush and well-researched historical novel with just a hint of fantasy to better accommodate the fairytale retelling aspect. Bunce's prose is immediately evocative and brings Charlotte's village and the mill to life. Fairy tales in general, but especially Rumpelstiltskin, are often very black and white, making it easy to tell exactly who the villain is. A Curse as Dark as Gold complicates things with rich, thoughtful characters who raise interesting questions throughout the narrative. While there are some decidedly bad choices and terrible acts, no one is ever completely bad anymore than they are entirely good. Despite the vibrant settings and compelling characters, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a slow read. While the pacing allows readers to really know Charlotte and her world, the novel doesn't get to the actual plot (not to mention the retelling aspect) until the second half of the novel. It is also impossible to ignore the fact that a significant number of problems for the characters could have been avoided with good communication. At several points throughout the novel, if Charlotte had chosen to talk to anyone about even half of what she had done or suspected, the entire plot could have easily been resolved. Instead Charlotte clings stubbornly to her pride and a foolish belief that, as head of the mill, she is meant to deal with all of the Miller's problems entirely on her own. Plot aside, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a beautifully written and very solid historical novel, making it easy to understand why it garnered the Morris win in 2009. Despite its interesting take on Rumpelstiltskin and a charmingly romantic plot thread, this novel remains a slow and often dense read. Recommended for readers who enjoy strong writing and well-rounded characters. A Curse as Dark as Gold will hold particular appeal for readers who can ignore weak plot points in favor of dazzling prose. Possible Pairings: Chime by Franny Billingsley, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was good a little slow at first but picks up a little. :)
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is good boik so far the girls dad dies and she is stuck with her sister
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I luv it!
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I love the retelling of Rumplestiltskin. It's not really too old fashioned but it's not modern either. It's really great for like grade 6 and up. I reread...a lot. It's something that really sticks with you. I remember most of it (certain parts really... not gonna be the spoiler) it's sticks that well and it's tense, it's a real page-turner. Take my word for it! = )
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KR66 More than 1 year ago
Read in my book club and loved the characters, story and lovely writing. Nicely developed romance, ghostly happenings and a tough and determined heroine and feisty sister. Highly recommend!
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shy95 More than 1 year ago
This book is definatly one of my favorites. I love the suprtnatural and this book has it by the ton. I also love that this book has a little bit of romance but it is the friendship kind of romance. The Miller girls show the kind of willpower needed to survive then and now. These girls, Charolette and Rosie, are the modern day careermakers of their time. This is a Rumpelstiltskin tale remade.