A bloodless retelling of the Bluebeard tale finds its setting in antebellum Mississippi.
When her father dies, 17-year-old Sophia is taken in by her godfather, the mysterious Bernard de Cressac. Sophie soon finds out that not only is her guardian a widower, but there have been three wives before the last. Wyndriven Abbey had been brought over, stone by stone, from France and rebuilt and added to, and it has a full complement of British, Chinese and French servants and plantation slaves. Sophie is first charmed, then puzzled, then frightened by Monsieur Bernard, who is mercurial in his moods and unyielding in his demands. Sophie is plucky and occasionally wise, but she also has a foil and a hope in the local minister, and she finds strength in prayer. Nickerson describes clothing, architecture, woods and gardens in lovely detail, but even though Sophie tells her tale in the first person, there is no depth or nuance. Indeed, for a story with murders, attempted rape and slave-beating, no sense of horror or fear comes off the page, nor does any sort of erotic tension or longing. The language is modern for so old a story, although the slaves and free blacks take their dialogue directly from Joel Chandler’s Uncle Remus: “Laws-a-mercy yes. I loves company! Have a blessed day.” The end is both predictable and partakes of a distressing white-savior mentality.
Skip it. (Historical fantasy/fairy tale. 14-18)