Book review–A Halloween-time ghost story recommendation

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s October finally and after one of the hottest summers on record the trees are turning and it couldn’t be setting up for a more perfect autumn, and with this beautiful fall the coming pinnacle of the season is Halloween.  Over the next few weeks we’ll be putting forward some reading and film recommendations to get you into the spirit of the season.  First up is a contemporary work and my favorite classic ghost tale.

The ghost story fantasy novel A Curse Dark as Gold by contributor Elizabeth C. Bunce has won several impressive awards, including being listed on the Smithsonian Institution list of great books, Oprah Winfrey’s YA book recommendation list, American Library Association recommended reading lists including best fiction, Amelia Bloomer (focusing on strong female roles), and the first William Morris Award for a first time author.  So if you like books that have critical acclaim this will be up your alley.  And if you are turned off by popular books that win accolades don’t let that keep you from this one, grab it off the shelf of your library and be your own judge as this is truly a unique book.

Curse takes place in the Gold Valley in that far away land where all fairy tales reside.  Charlotte Miller is a girl in her late teens whose father dies and leaves her the town of Shearings’s woolen mill, which serves as workplace for most of her community, along with the care of Charlotte’s younger sister Rosie.  Unwanted responsibilities are quickly thrust upon this young woman from page one.  From a skeletal view Curse is a spin on Rumpelstitskin-type helper tales of the past, but this story takes on its own life.  Shearing is at once lovely and pastoral, yet dark and creepy doings begin to pierce through the landscape.  A mysterious uncle appears and begins to interject himself into the girls’ lives.  As if sick from a good friend’s death, the mill itself begins to respond to the death of Charlotte’s father, with boards crashing down on an employee, things not working quite like they should, and everything seeming to fall apart at once.

The story is set at the dawn of the industrial revolution.  Water wheels are becoming replaced with steam power and the big industrial cities that come along with that new technology.  Charlotte quickly finds she has inherited her father’s acumen as a smart businessperson, yet real life pressures including competition from big city wool firms, and unfair attempts to squeeze Shearing’s mill out of the marketplace, cause the mill to lose workers.  The real-life economic issues are only the beginning of Charlotte’s problems.  A strange neighbor lady is a follower of old world ways, superstitions and magic, and Rosie attempts to fix things by dabbling into this world.  Charlotte, a non-believer, weighs her options and soon a helper appears with an impractical solution to her problems.   Charlotte makes a bargain with this man and Shearing is safe for a time, but as more problems hit the town and the stakes are raised, Charlotte is left to make further bargains, including a deal she’s not even aware she made that results in the man walking away with someone dear to her.  Charlotte is steadfast and stubborn, relying only upon her own intuition she turns away from everyone near her, including sister Rosie and her new husband.

The rustle of the wind, the creaks of the mill building, the thump of the belts on the mill wheel, all come alive.  Thoroughly creepy images of the mysterious stranger manipulating Charlotte’s uncle will stick with you long after you’re done reading.  And at the heart of the novel is a dark ghost story, that will force you to decide whether Charlotte’s mill really is cursed.  Elizabeth’s exquisite prose, and the determined and believable voice of narrator Charlotte, will leave you believing you didn’t pull a work from 2008 off the bookshelf, but a classic work written in the 1800s.  With A Curse Dark as Gold you will be hard-pressed to find any other book that will better get you in the mood for the coming holiday and its hauntings.

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