A Touch of Gold, by Annie Sullivan

I’m prematurely proud of this review—not for myself, but for the fact that I’m reviewing the book of a fellow Butler University MFA alumnus. I actually got to meet Annie Sullivan, the author of today’s book, when she gave a reading this fall at Butler, and since then, I’ve been anxious to read what was initially her graduate thesis. Many years later, what is any MFA candidate’s most grueling project has been turned into a polished hardback copy. It does give us MFA graduates hope that our theses can see the world beyond our cramped offices, so let’s see how well this one turned out, shall we?

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Quick note before we begin: Ms. Sullivan and I had the same thesis advisor during our tenures at Butler. About time I gave a shout-out to Allison Lynn for her inspiring advice and uncanny ability to withstand winding babbling in thesis meetings.

Anyway, to A Touch of Gold.

Princess Kora lives a sequestered life in the palace of Lagonia, hiding her literal golden skin behind veils and gloves. Years ago, her father, the legendary King Midas, accidentally turned her to gold, and he has since renounced his golden Touch out of shame. But there is a link between Midas and the objects he affected with his Touch, which are soon stolen from the palace. As Midas begins to wither and die without the presence of the cursed gold, Kora must go on a dangerous journey, filled with pirates and swordfights and treachery, in order to find and return the gold before it’s too late.

I’m no sailor, but I like any adventure that involves ships, treasure, and pirates (Treasure Island is a favorite when such books are in short supply). Putting characters on the open sea, where there are dangers in the water and on other ships, make for great drama and action. Throw in a mutiny in a place where there’s nowhere to escape, and the cake has been iced. Luckily, A Touch of Gold has all the great touches of an adventure: betrayal, danger, a little romance, but especially the thrill of discovery.

But this adventure would mean nothing if I didn’t like the characters. Kora, first of all, is one of the most refreshing YA protagonists I’ve read in a bit. She is sequestered, but she’s not naïve. She is compassionate and careful, but she can put up a fight if she needs to. It was nice to read about a fantasy-novel teenager who is not hardened to the point of being a loner, and has no skill with a weapon. Her only weapon is how hard she will fight for her loved ones–well, and her ability to absorb gold from one thing and transfer it to another.  That was cool!

Kora’s cousin Hettie was an amusing companion. She reminded me a little of Lottie from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, how she was prim and proper, but would put up a heck of a fight if you got in her way. Her spats with Rhat, one of the sailors aboard the ship, were cute, and to watch someone so prim adapt to life on the sea was cute too.

Hardly any YA book makes do without a romance these days. I won’t spoil the details of Kora’s love life (she wouldn’t like that anyway, no doubt), but her interactions with any love interests are handled very well. If one of them is meant to be, then it feels real. If one of them comes across as cold and cruel, then you feel that coldness like a chill in your bones. And when Kora really opens up to love, you feel truly happy for her. Besides, put any man at the helm of a ship, watch the wind ruffle his hair and his shirt, and ships become a nice place to find love…um, anyway…

The only place I kind of stumbled in this book was Kora’s motivation for going after the gold. She needs to find the gold and return it to the palace before her father dies, I get that, but at first, I wasn’t really sure Kora’s connection to Midas was as strong as it could have been. I think I felt more Kora’s excitement to leave her kingdom for a bit. Granted, in the end, their relationship was redeemed, but I wonder how it could have been if Midas was more prominent in Kora’s decision to take her journey.

Some people might come to this book for another layer to an old fairy tale, and some because one of their MFA program alums actually made it out there, but, whichever way you discover A Touch of Gold, it is worth the read. I hear it might be the first in a series, so if that doesn’t daunt you—well, even if it does, I’ll still tell you the same—feel free to check it out. There are signed copies of it in some stores, I’ve noticed, so see if you can find one. You might find a note that says you’re worth more than gold, just like any good story.

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