A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
When Charlotte Miller's father dies, her world feels flipped on its head, but she knows what she has to do: what she always has. The Stirwaters Mill has been in her family for generations, and it has always been at the center of the town of Shearing. All of the townsfolk work in and around the Mill--it provides livelihood for all of them.
And so Charlotte knows that she must pick up where her father left off, and, with the help of her sister Rosie, run the Mill and keep the town afloat.
But one spate of bad luck after another foul all of Charlotte's plans and labors, until she must face the terrible possibility of failure. And that's when the mysterious Jack Spinner shows up, with the power to spin straw into gold, and the ability to rescue Charlotte and Shearing from despair.
Accepting his help is tantalizing and impossible to refuse. But is it worth the cost? Charlotte is sure that she will sacrifice anything to keep her family and friends afloat, but when she learns the true price of Jack Spinner's aid, Charlotte will have to fight to protect her town, her home and her family.
Where do I begin with what I loved about this book? I loved everything. I loved the way that marriage is presented as imperfect, as flawed, as not the happy ending, but instead as merely the middle of someone's story. I loved the strong female characters, Charlotte and Rosie both, and I loved their flaws. I loved the very creepy ghost story.
This book is gut-wrenching. There were a few spots that were so awful I needed to literally close the book and stop reading for a little while, because it was too much for me. I was so pained for the characters that it hurt to read--I turned the pages with great gasping breaths.
It starts slow, but once you get into it is sucks you in and steals your will to do anything but find out what happens, how the story evolves and how the characters grow. It's utterly compelling.
It's a lovely story that shares some similarities with Sharon Shinn's Truth Teller's Tale series--vivid descriptions of country life, and a plot that is small in stature--it's not the fate of the world on the line, just the fate of one family and one small town--but the danger and terror and overwhelming price of failure is heavy nonetheless.
This is a beautiful book, all around. It's a little slow in the starting, but once you get sucked into the narrative, you won't be able to get it out of your mind until long after you turn the last page.