Review: Stalks of Gold

I was fortunate to receive an ARC of the first book in the upcoming Bewitching Fairy Tales series by Celeste Baxendell. Set for release on January 28th, Stalks of Gold is a retelling of "Rumpelstiltskin" and "Rapunzel" that I enjoyed quite a bit more than the last "Rumpelstiltskin" adaptation I reviewed. The love story in Stalks of Gold is not shallow like many other fairy tale adaptations, and the protagonist's obstinance toward love is understandable. It sets up a flawed love triangle that gives the reader a chance to piece together how it might end up without being too heavy-handed. The first installment in this fairy tale series does a good job of balancing the two fairy tales without having a split personality by giving each of the two love interest a different role in both stories.

Stalks of Gold by Celeste Baxendell

Stalks of Gold wastes no time in setting up the premise. Aurelia, a miller's daughter, is captured by palace guards and forced to spin straw into gold, something that she believes to be impossible. Her sole hope of being spared rests with Sandor, her good friend who works at the palace. Sandor has a much closer relationship with the king than Aurelia is aware of, and as a result, he is unable to come to her defense when she is taken against her will. Aurelia sees this act as a betrayal and turns to a magical being who has the ability to spin straw into gold for her. She makes several bargains with the mysterious man, including granting him the name Ruskin. Unlike the fairy tale, none of these bargains involve any unborn children, which could have tied neatly into the original story of "Rapunzel." However, I liked that this book kept the romance clean in both of the fairy tales it incorporated. Once Aurelia has spun all the gold that King Eadric requires of her, she is forced into another impossible situation. Without Sandor to turn to for help, she finds herself locked away in a tower after a desperate act to escape marrying the crazed king.

I appreciate how much depth went into all three characters in the love triangle from this book. At the beginning of the story, I genuinely did not know which love interest Aurelia would choose. Sandor's cowardice to stand up for her as the king captured and abused her was difficult to look past. Meanwhile, Ruskin seems like the obvious choice at first because he is always there for Aurelia when she needs him. However, things are not always as they seem. The book gives us a chance to root for Sandor by revealing his side of the story and how awful he felt about not doing anything when Aurelia was taken. In between her struggles, the book reveals Sandor's secret meetings with his sister and all of the work that he puts in behind the scenes to free Aurelia from the wicked king's grasp. Ruskin's intentions are more mysterious. As the story unravels, Aurelia learns some valuable lessons about patience and trust.

The only section that felt a little forced was the magical hair aspect of the "Rapunzel" sequence. There wasn't a particularly good explanation of why Ruskin used magic to grow Aurelia's hair impossibly long while she was trapped in the tower except to give her a convenient method of escaping. Her captor never used it to climb up, and her hair had been a normal length prior to that point. Other elements of the fairy tale were handled tastefully, such as the prince's struggle to deal with the loss of his eyesight, and the "Rapunzel" figure wandering the desert in search of him after she escapes (minus the pregnancy). I also like that Aurelia getting locked in a tower gives both love interests a second chance to prove their true intentions to her and forces her to take time to consider where her loyalties truly lie. There's nothing like being stuck in solitude to force a person to reevaluate their life.

Stalks of Gold is a clever twist on the classic fairy tale romance trope. In this day and age where princesses are viewed in pop culture media as unrealistically flawless, this book allows us to take another look at the daring princes who rescue damsels in distress with little to no effort. Love can give a person unwavering loyalty, but it does not make them invincible. Stalks of Gold is a promising start to a series of fairy tales about princesses and heroes who must look beyond their own shortcomings and learn to love each other for who they truly are. This book is available now in paperback and is set for release on Kindle on January 28th. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


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