So, I have recently discovered that I freaking adore augmented histories – particularly when I know a little about the history being augmented and when a little bit of folklore and fantasy is thrown into the mix. For those looking for information on the lives of the Brontë siblings, this may not be for you. But for those who enjoy deeply imaginative retellings and being transported into fantastical worlds this book might be just the ticket.
Title: Worlds of Ink and Shadow
Author: Lena Coakley
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, YA Fiction, Augmented History
Themes: The Brontë Family, Family Relationships, Imaginary Worlds
My Rating: 4/ 5
Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been inseparable. After all, nothing can bond four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage out on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.
Gorgeously written and based on the Brontë’s juvenilia, Worlds of Ink & Shadow brings to life one of history’s most celebrated literary families.
I love it when I find good YA, especially YA that features strong characters, exciting plots, and isn’t dependent on stereotypical tropes and damsels in distress to carry the story along. It’s even better when the characters and author are aware of these stereotypes and obviously poke fun at them. Now add in the fact that this mystical world revolves around the Brontë siblings and the fantastical places that featured in their juvenilia and this book nerd is completely smitten.
Perhaps the only thing that I can really complain about is the multiple alternating perspectives. With all four siblings being given point of view at times it did feel a little jumpy and I had to consciously keep track of which sibling belonged to each chapter. However, after a while the voices and feelings of Charlotte, Anne, Emily and Bramwell became distinct and considerably easier to follow. This is one of those books where I would encourage struggling readers to stick with it, because the climax really is in the final chapters and all of the world building and character development is actually worth it.
It was interesting to see the development and reasoning behind each of the character’s personalities, especially the lasting effects of the loss of Elizabeth and Maria. However, despite the wildness of Emily and prominence of Charlotte, I ended up absolutely adoring Anne. In life she never got the chance to achieve the same fame attained by her siblings, but in Coakley’s version of events this shy and overlooked little lady gets to be the ultimate heroine. I particularly appreciated how vehemently she fought to stay true to herself, and how this conviction was ultimately the trait that saved her family. And, given the tragic reality of consumption in the 19th century, it was touching to be offered an escapist alternative.
When it comes to dealing with real people and events, I always look for authors to disclose their sources or at least acknowledge the influences on their work. I was pleased to see Coakley’s note indicating that while real events in the lives of the Brontë’s were consulted and included, that she took considerable liberties with their lives and where the ways in which she diverged from actuality. I would have appreciated a nod to the inclusion of her sources for the Reynard/ Old Tom folklore, especially since it is deeply rooted in both the area in which the story is set as well as in British literature dating back hundreds of years. But with that being said, I love how the trickster was the traditional fox, anthropomorphic, and at times even assumed the Gaelic Bodach/ Bogeyman form. The presence of this tradition gave Coakley’s version weight and believability that might otherwise have been lacking. I think that it is important for folklore to live on in modern adaptations, and Coakley’s retelling left me wanting more.
Finally, I loved concept of literary worlds being real places that their creators could cross over into. You have no idea how many times I wanted to escape into Middle Earth, stand across the ballroom from Mr. Darcy, or run down the hallways of Hogwarts – this whole idea made me wish I myself could make a bargain with Old Tom, even if it was only once, so that I could visit my favourite places. But most importantly, the fantastical elements of the story were so subtly done that I never really felt like I was leaving reality.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. I know that it won’t be for everyone, but for me it was a breath of fresh air. This was the kind of story where I picked up the book and after a while completely forgot that I was reading. It is touching, insightful, and masterfully drawn. For those who love a little fantasy with their literary heroes, this one is sure to please.