Rescued from a life of drudge work,
Cocooned in luxury,
No visitors welcomed or allowed, at all.
An old English abbey transplanted with all its contents into the sweltering Mississippi woods, secrets behind every locked door, mysterious names etched into hidden corners of Sophie’s bedroom furniture… four wives tragically lost, M. Bernard’s only child dead, ghosts murmuring in her room.
The Bluebeard legend is lushly retold by Jane Nickerson, who lived in Mississippi several years before moving to Canada. She shared her writing inspiration in a Nerdy Bookclub blog post on her novel’s publication birthday, and I saw a tweet that it’s the first in a trilogy!
How do you know when something is too good to be true?
Book info: Strands of Bronze and Gold / Jane Nickerson. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013. [author’s website] [publisher site]
My Recommendation: Whisked away to her godfather’s mansion after her father’s death in 1855, auburn-haired Sophia envisions plenty in place of her family’s genteel poverty. She is startled by the luxury she finds there, unsettled by slavery supporting the rich, sensitive to the ghost women wandering the halls, yet slow to heed the dire messages they try to convey.
The seventeen-year-old couldn’t have prepared herself for the magnificence of Monsieur de Cressac’s estate, a real English abbey shipped to America stone by stone and reassembled at his rural Mississippi plantation 25 years ago. Nor could she have imagined that her bearded godfather was so handsome, so much younger looking than always-ailing Father, nor that Madame de Cressac was deceased and that Mrs. Duckworth the housekeeper would be her chaperone in this vast mansion.
Monsieur insists that Sophia call him by his first name, that she cast off her mourning for the finest clothes, that she try every dish the chef prepares. Mrs. Duckworth cautions her against defying him, as his temper can get the better of him, so she allows the new lady’s maid to help her dress for dinner and plays the piano pieces he prefers.
But amid all this opulence, strange details emerge: M. Bernard has lost not one wife, but four. Their spirits appear to Sophia when she visits the long-closed nursery, as she pretends to sleep when Bernard taps on her door in the middle of the night, as her nightmares begin to outnumber her dreams.
By chance, she meets a young minister and an old former slave woman in the Abbey’s extensive woodlands; both warn her of Bernard’s very dark reputation. She writes many letters to her sister and brothers in New England, yet receives none in reply. Bernard decides that they must be married, despite their age difference and her misgivings – and will not accept no for an answer.
What truly happened to M. de Cressac’s wives?
Did he choose to court each one because of her red hair?
Can Sophia escape this house of darkness before it is too late?
This lush retelling of the Bluebeard story is garlanded with details about all that Sophia experiences as she moves from a loving home with few comforts to Bernard’s extravagant estate, supported on the backs of countless slaves and circumscribed by his moods. (One of 6,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.