Charlotte Miller’s father has just died, leaving the family woolen mill in her and her younger sister’s hands. She refuses to see it out of her family’s possession, but a heavy mortgage, a horrible surprise visit from a banker with devastating news, and what the villagers call a curse slowly stack up against her--until a man who can spin straw into gold offers her his help and she takes it. To say I loved this book may be an understatement. Bunce takes the tale of Rumpelstiltskin and brings it to life beautifully. Only the basic plot points still exist in this novel; Charlotte being a miller’s daughter, a man who can spin straw into gold, what she must give in payment, and finding out the man’s real identity. The things Bunce adds into the story are believable and really bring it to life. Charlotte’s journey from a girl struggling to keep her way of life afloat and scornfully dismissing any talk of curses to a woman who very quickly becomes a believer in otherworldly things is an amazing one to watch, if extremely hard at times. Bunce’s characterization is wonderful, even if sometimes Rosie, Charlotte’s sister, felt a little underused in favor of other characters. You can slowly see Charlotte becoming less and less sure of her belief that there is no curse on her family, or on the mill, as more things seem to turn against her and the man who calls himself Jack Spinner continues to help her, always for a price. Other characters are similarly well done; Wheeler, Charlotte and Rosie’s uncle, is a wonderfully done character, and the ending to his plot arc makes perfect sense, even if it is saddening. Randall, the banker-turned-love interest, is another good character. Bunce makes the reader fall in love with these characters easily, and makes it hurt to read when they all go through hard times and tough choices that almost ruin relationships and other things. She doesn’t turn anyone into a true villain with no hope of redemption, even the person who is the main antagonist of the novel. Everyone has shades of grey, and she makes sure to show it, and makes you feel sympathy for everyone. The best character is Charlotte, however, as it should be. She’s a strong, no nonsense kind of girl, and it’s inspiring to read her trying to keep it all together while her life slowly unravels. Right after her father’s funeral she gets straight to business, cleaning up his messes and trying to find any way she can to come up with money. She would go to the ends of the Earth to save her mill, and she does everything humanly possible that a woman in the late 1700s can do. Charlotte is flawed, and that always makes for a wonderful leading character: She’s maybe a bit hotheaded, and prideful, and stubborn. Her biggest flaw is probably that she makes choices for her loved ones without consulting them about it first, under the futile attempt at protecting them. But she’s also loving, and protective, and intelligent, and so much more. Charlotte is a well rounded character and she’s a joy to read. There are a lot of strengths in this book, but I think Bunce’s biggest strength is in her prose. It’s lyrical, much like Shannon Hale’s, and there’s an easiness to it that is highly impressive, as this line from chapter four demonstrates: The water trickled by below us, a faint whisper and splash in the afternoon sun; but I heard it as the blood of Stirwaters draining away. [pg. 58] And that’s only one beautiful sentence in a book full of them. Another strength of the author’s is in the way she contrasts settings; at Stirwaters there’s an openness, a simple beauty to everything, a bright happiness. Even when times are hard, and they are hard indeed in this book, the setting of the Millers home is still easy and light and wonderful. But when Charlotte later travels to a new wool factory in the city, one that uses machines and weary people, it feels heavy, closed in, too loud and dark and painful without ever really saying as much. It’s all in how Bunce describes it and she manages to convey a lifeless building full of tired workers and far too loud machinery perfectly. There were times when the pacing dragged, mostly in the middle and definitely in the ending. Sometimes it felt like it took too long to get to the conclusion, the final meeting between Charlotte and Jack Spinner. The intent was probably to make the reader feel the same way as Charlotte, tense and worried and just wanting to go already, but it dragged down the ending far too much. I did enjoy the backstory on Wheeler in these pages, as it broke up a bit of monotony, but it went right back into Charlotte waiting for a way back home to save her family, and right back into the dragging pace. But it’s a small complaint in a book that has so much to offer. All in all, A Curse Dark as Gold is a stunning debut and one I wish I’d gotten to sooner. I’m very much looking forward to reading Bunce’s new novel, StarCrossed.