October is winding down after another hot summer. The trees are turning red and orange and it couldn’t be setting up for a more perfect autumn, and Halloween is almost here. If you’re looking for a ghost story to get you into the mood of the season, check out borg.com writer Elizabeth C. Bunce’s novel A Curse Dark as Gold, available in hardcover, paperback, audio, and E-book editions from Amazon.com and other booksellers, first reviewed here back in 2011.
A Curse Dark as Gold 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 framework standpoint A Curse Dark as Gold is a spin on Rumpelstiltskin-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. You will be hard-pressed to find another book that will better get you in the mood for the coming holiday and its hauntings. The audio book as read by British actress Charlotte Parry, known for her roles in Tony Award winning Broadway plays, is a great way to immerse yourself in a ghost story.
A Curse Dark as Gold has won several national awards, including being listed on the Smithsonian Institution list of notable books, Oprah Winfrey’s recommendation list for YA, American Library Association recommended reading lists including best fiction, Amelia Bloomer (honoring strong female roles), and the first William Morris Award (honoring first time authors). It was also included along with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and In Cold Blood on the Kansas sesquicentennial 150 Books/150 Years list.