Review: Stalks of Gold (Bewitching Fairy Tales, #1) (ARC)

Expected publication: January 28th 2021, 392 pages

Author: Celeste Baxendell

Magic isn’t a solution; it’s a trap.

If Aurelia comes across magic, she’s supposed to run in the other direction. Life is no longer so simple. If the tower door opens, and she doesn’t have any gold, her life will be forfeit.

No one is going to help her, not even her closest friend. No one, except for the mysterious stranger who appeared on her doorstep and in her tower room. If she takes the deal, she might live, but what will she sacrifice in order to do it?

Sandor’s worlds collided when Aurelia was brought before King Eadric. Is he truly so desperate to get out of debt, he’s willing to believe such nonsense as a girl who can spin straw into gold? She’s Sandor’s closest friend. If Aurelia were a witch, he would know it. It’s impossible, or so he thought.

Nothing makes sense anymore, but Sandor’s determined to figure it out and save Aurelia from the king. The more he learns, the more he wonders, is the king the real threat, or is there something more dangerous lurking in the shadows?

A fairy tale retelling that combines two well-known stories to make an engaging story. Stalks of Gold is the first novel in the new Bewitching Fairy Tales series. This is my first novel by Celeste Baxendell and won’t be my last as I greatly enjoy fairy tales and this one was a nice and easy read that you can easily devour in a few hours (less if you’re a faster reader). In this first novel of the series, the author tackles both “Rapunzel” and “Rumpelstiltskin.” The two tales are mixed together to surround our main character and main villains to make an enjoyable read.

Our story focuses on the miller’s daughter, Aurelia. She first meets a mysterious man with bright red hair, who does not have a name, but knows her father, while she is at her father’s mill. Aurelia and her father escort the man into town the next day where she meets with her childhood friend, a royal guard named Sandor, who requests Aurelia meet her the next day as he has something to tell her. This day sets off a series of events as the mysterious man, Sandor, and Aurelia’s worlds all combine to start our tale. The next day, while Aurelia is on her way to meet Sandor, she is captured by palace guards and taken to King Eadric. The King, who is desperate to save the failing kingdom, has learned that Aurelia can spin straw into gold and locks her away until she produces gold.

Aurelia Is disappointed when Sandor seemingly does nothing to help her, but little does she know that there is a good reason why he cannot stand up to the king. As Aurelia is lost, as she believes turning straw into gold is impossible, our mysterious man enters to save her. Thus, our Rumpelstiltskin tale officially begins. Believing that Ruskin (a name given to him by Aurelia) is her only hope, she puts her trust in him to save her from the terrible king and situation. Ruskin helps Aurelia escape the palace in exchange that she stay with him and does not leave the tower and our “Rapunzel” portion is explored. As Aurelia is trapped in the tower, she starts to wonder if Ruskin is not the hero she thought he was and she needs to find a way to escape. She meets Sandor again as he is on a mission to find her, but being together and escaping might not be possible. The story journeys through Aurelia and Sandor’s attempts to free Aurelia from Ruskin, but he proves to be a clever and almost impossible to beat foe.

Magic comes with a price and it is well explored in this story as Aurelia does not want to rely on it, but it becomes her only option in some situations. It provided a great background to the more serious topics of different types of abuse that our characters experience. On the surface, many of the decisions the characters make can become eye rolling as they can make the same mistakes repeatedly. When you consider the deeper abuse aspect, however, you begin to understand why they do the things that they do in certain situations. It was well done throughout and I loved how they characters grew and began to learn from different mistakes and they worked to try and not repeat them.

The book varies between being told from Aurelia’s side to Sandor’s and it is balanced as you can understand how each character is feeling and what each of them were doing during different parts of the story. You see Aurelia’s side where she believes that Sandor has abandoned her in her time of need, but then you see Sandor’s where he is balancing a fine line between helping Aurelia and not angering the King. As the story moves forward, more truths are revealed and it becomes clear why both Sandor and Aurelia make certain choices in the moment.

Overall, this novel was a promising start to a great series. Both “Rapunzel” and “Rumpelstiltskin” were integrated well, however, I feel the “Rapunzel” portion could have been explored more as it is never fully explained about Aurelia’s hair and how it holds significance for growing longer as Ruskin does not wish for her to cut it during her time in the tower. The novel is a little slow to start, but picks up the pace and flows well until the end. I love that you feel Aurelia’s indecisiveness as she wavers between Ruskin and Sandor and the books keeps you guessing about whom her heart would ultimately choose. It was a refreshing twist as our heroine doesn’t automatically villainize Ruskin and Sandor is the automatic choice. There is some repetitiveness as some obstacles seem to repeat, but they do make sense for the overall story. However, it can be frustrating at times. It is a very quick read that is both easy (familiarity with the main storylines) and dark (heavier topics presented), which made it a great read. It is a promising series and I would pick up the next one and try it!

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