Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publishing Date: March 2013
Genre: young adult, gothic, historical fiction
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.
Sophia leaves her brothers and sister in Boston to stay with her godfather, Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, in Wyndriven Abbey in Mississippi. A handsome, alluring, and wealthy man, de Cressac lures Sophia under his spell by lavishing her with attention and riches. But as Sophia learns more about de Cressac’s four dead wives, notices the lack of company from town, and is forbidden to leave without de Cressac’s permission, she begins to unravel a horrifying past. Trapped in a tangled web of passion and deceit, Sophia fights for freedom and escape to avoid becoming a fifth dead wife.
Nickerson’s Bluebeard fairy tale retold is stunning. I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of 1850s Mississippi Wyndriven Abbey — both enchanting and foreboding all at once. Bernard is similar in that nature, too charming to be real, too attentive to be safe. While Sophia is entranced with the Mississippi estate, the reader is on high alert for something amiss. That unease continues throughout the book, culminating in high suspense and terror.
Sophia’s character growth throughout the book is phenomenal. Although Sophia (Nickerson, really) continuously pointed out how different current Sophia was to past Sophia, it was apparent without the added insight. She arrives in humid Mississippi under her godfather’s spell, adoring the clothes he purchases, the mesmerizing food she tastes, and the little gifts and outings Bernard showers upon her. By the end of the novel, she’s fierce, brave, and does not care about frivolous things. I enjoyed watching her grow up, even if the circumstances were horrifying and far from ideal.
One aspect about the book, from a historical standpoint, that I liked was the incorporation of slavery and a Northerner’s opinion on it compared to a Southerner’s. This part of the book is up for some debate — was it portrayed accurately? Is Sophia too naïve? Is the dialogue appropriate? — but I think, considering Sophia’s lack of experience and intolerance of slavery, it’s entirely appropriate and portrayed rather well. In other words, her innocence lends to the representation.
Suspenseful, enchanting, terrifying, magical, and gruesome, this book is definitely worth a read.