A Curse Dark as Gold is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story, set at a rural wool mill just before the Industrial Revolution. The author, Elizabeth Bunce, preserves Rumpelstiltskin’s magic but discards the flat, stale characters that often populate fairy tale plots. Bunce’s characters are fully fleshed out, operating with realistic motivations in the face of both real and magical challenges.
When Charlotte Miller’s father dies, she inherits Stirwaters Woolen Mill. Practical and stubborn, Charlotte has already handled much of Stirwaters’s business for years. Rosie, her hotheaded younger sister, does machinery and repair work. The townspeople are doubtful that two teenage girls can manage a mill on their own, but Charlotte is determined to keep Stirwaters open because the residents of Shearing, the small town where she lives, depend on Stirwaters for their livelihoods.
Stirwaters been in the Miller family for generations. All of the mill’s managers have died young, as have their firstborn sons. Not once has a son inherited the mill directly from his father. Instead, the business has been passed to cousins and grandsons—and now to a daughter. Because of this strange history, the people of Shearing believe Stirwaters bears a curse.
Charlotte does not believe in the curse. She dismisses it as superstition and turns her attention to practical challenges instead. Pinchfields, a rival mill that makes cheaper fabric, wants to buy Stirwaters to adopt its older, more respected name. Charlotte refuses to sell, but she faces strong pressure both from Pinchfields and from her Uncle Wheeler, an idle, flamboyant man who insists Charlotte and Rosie should quit working and get married.
Charlotte’s problems intensify when she learns that her father placed a large mortgage on the mill before he died. The managers of his bank, Uplands Mercantile, assume that a teenage girl cannot be trusted with such a large debt. They send an employee, Randall Woodstone, to collect the entire amount immediately. Randall is impressed by Charlotte’s hard work. He convinces the bank to hold off on collecting the loan for a short time. Even with this reprieve, however, Charlotte must make the mill earn more money than it ever has in the past.
Determined to make her loan payment on time, Charlotte puts her employees to work making a large run of fine fabric. Everything goes wrong at once: equipment fails, workers get injured, and much of the cloth is destroyed by a mysterious saboteur. As Charlotte tries to cope with each of these problems, she receives a letter from the Wool Guild, barring her from selling any of her stock at Worm Hill, the wool market where her business has traditionally earned almost all its income. The townsfolk grumble about the Stirwaters curse, but Charlotte refuses to believe that supernatural forces are contributing to her misfortunes.
Rosie, however, is not as practical as Charlotte. When it seems certain that the girls will default on their loan and lose the mill, Rosie performs a magic spell she found in one of her father’s notebooks. A man appears and promises to help. He calls himself Jack Spinner, but this is an obvious pseudonym; a jackspinner is a man who runs a mill tool called the spinning jack. Spinner transforms a pile of straw into hundreds of spools of beautiful gold thread. In return, he asks for a ring that belonged to Charlotte’s mother. Though Charlotte is sorry to lose her ring, she accepts the bargain in order to save the mill.
After Spinner’s visit, Charlotte accompanies Uncle Wheeler, who is still pressuring her to sell the mill, to the city of Harrowgate. Behind Wheeler’s back, Charlotte sells Jack Spinner’s gold thread and makes her bank payment on time. Randall Woodstone, the banker, is impressed that Charlotte managed to earn so much money so quickly. But when Charlotte snubs the representative of Pinchfields who makes yet another offer on the mill, Uncle Wheeler is furious. Charlotte later sees Wheeler meeting secretly with Pinchfields employees, and on the way home she learns he has a secret gambling addiction. She begins to grow suspicious of her uncle’s intentions.
After the sale of the gold thread, Charlotte and the mill experience a few small successes. Although she is still barred from domestic wool markets, Charlotte manages to make a deal to sell her cloth overseas. Randall Woodstone visits Shearing during the harvest festival and asks...
(The entire section is 1835 words.)