Rumpelstiltskin isn’t an easy fairy tale to retell as a novel, simply because as a fairy tale, none of the characters are sympathetic ones. The miller is an idiot who lies to the king and sends his daughter to her death. The king is greedy, gullible, and doesn’t appear particularly caring. The miller’s daughter, though a victim of circumstance, shows no gratitude towards Rumpelstiltskin and seems to become perfectly happy to spend her life with the king who’s threatened her life time and again. Rumpelstiltskin himself, well, what does he want that baby for anyway?
So Bunce had her work cut out for her in retelling this story. And oh, did she do it well.
I will say that if you’re looking for a romance (because some people feel that fairy tale retelling = romance), then this may not quite be the book for you. Charlotte, the main character, of course marries the King’s substitute in this story: Randall, a banker who arrives to foreclose the mill. But their courtship came—in my opinion—rather abruptly, and while I as a reader truly do adore Randall, it felt as though Charlotte’s marriage to him was less one of love than it was her desire to feel safe. Randall clearly loves Charlotte; but the book, being told from Charlotte’s perspective, does not allow for such romantic notions, because Charlotte does not have them.
Now, finally, for a summary:
Charlotte and Rosie are orphans, having lost their mother as little girls and recently lost their father too. Though they have no brothers, Charlotte decides to take over the mill rather than sell it. But not only is the mill cursed so that what breaks inside it becomes impossible to repair; there also appear men from another textile company that are pushing to buy the mill, Charlotte and Rosie’s maternal uncle who pushes them to sell the mill, and of course Randall, who comes from the bank to foreclose the mill over a large sum of money that their father borrowed without explanation.
Charlotte tries and tries to make things work, but everything falls apart around her, quite literally. So there appears a mysterious Jack Spinner, who will do anything they need to save the mill for a price.
Much like Heart’s Blood, the curse that underlies this story is set up as a mystery: a thing that cannot be overcome until the characters understand the origins of it. Yet unlike Heart’s Blood, where the main character knows all along that this is the case and searches for answers, this story proves much more frustrating, because Charlotte does not believe in magic. Every charm, every spell that is cast around her she looks on with disdain and refuses to entertain the possibility until the very end, when it takes her less than 50 pages to solve everything.
Nevertheless, before it finally strikes her that the curse is real, she is so very busy trying to make the mill work, and as a reader, you get swept along with her efforts. As frustrating as it is that she doesn’t seem to have the presence of mind to wonder about all the mysteries around her, her determination alone can keep the reader tied to the book, hoping against hope that she will succeed.
Rosie and Harte, her beau, are not as well-developed as I may have liked. Charlotte is well-rounded, and Randall even more so. Rosie is somewhat rounded, but you rather have to read between the lines to grasp the full extent of her character; Harte seemed to me rather flat and uninteresting.
While I enjoyed the read, it didn’t touch me any deeper than on a superficial level. This isn’t a story I would recommend to someone unless they had an explicit interest in either the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, or old-fashioned textile production. I would rate it 6/10.