This book gave me the creeps, but in a good way. While I enjoyed the story, it never really felt like a fairy tale retelling.
The Bluebeard fairy tale retold. . . .
When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.
Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.
Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.
I guess I should start by saying that I didn’t know what the Bluebeard fairy tale was going in to this book, and I’m still not really sure what it is. Though there are lots hair-raising moments, this book comes off as sinister historical fiction rather than a fairy tale retelling. If you are looking for a book that has clear paranormal or fantasy elements, this isn’t it, but the story it tells is definitely worth reading anyway.
Sophia was a likable protagonist. In the beginning, I kind of thought she was going to be annoying, but she wasn’t. She is young without being stupid. She’s strong and curious, aware of the larger picture and willing to put her own comfort aside to protect others. I respected and felt for her.
The setting–a Southern plantation with a Gothic abbey transplanted onto the grounds–was everything this book needed it to be. Nickerson’s imagery was incredible–I vividly understood the abbey’s dark interior, the gorgeous sprawling grounds, and the luxuries Sophia was surrounded by. Taking place on a plantation, the issue of slavery obviously came up, adding to the plot without feeling shoehorned in. Sophia’s character was deeply influenced by the treatment of the slaves on the grounds, one of the first things that helped her mature out of the flighty girl she was in the beginning of the story and into the strong and selfless girl who stood on the last pages.
The main plot of the book deals with Sophia’s relationship with her mysterious godfather Bernard de Cressac. He starts out as a loving and generous father figure and slowly evolves into a love interest, finally being revealed as an abusive and temperamental figure. From the first pages, it was clear that there was something off about de Cressac’s intentions toward Sophia, but I was transfixed by the subtle way his true personality was revealed. It was honestly creepy, giving the story a Gothic horror vibe and making it impossible to put down.
Sophia’s relationship with de Cressac provided an emotional window into dealing with abusive households. Trapped by her family’s financial issues, Sophia had to remain in de Cressac’s home, even as it became increasingly clear that he was a monster. I was genuinely terrified for Sophia, but she handled herself well, showing incredible bravery and selflessness.
The romance (not involving de Cressac, thank God) was simple but sweet. I liked the love interest enough, and I appreciated the conflicts that kept the two apart. There was nothing amazingly original about the romance’s arc, but it added a dose of positivity that the plot needed.
Though it lacked clear fantasy elements, I enjoyed this story. Fans of hair-raising historical fiction should definitely read this book, as well as people who appreciate strong female characters and vivid settings.