“Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings find escape from their constrained lives via their rich imaginations. The glittering world of Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy world of Gondal literally come to life under their pens, offering the sort of romance and intrigue missing from their isolated parsonage home. 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 the characters they have created—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.
Gorgeously written and based on the Brontës’ juvenilia, Worlds of Ink and Shadow brings to life one of history’s most celebrated literary families in a thrilling, suspenseful fantasy.”
I’m going to admit this up front: I don’t know much about the Brontës, and what little I do know has nothing to do with their childhoods or juvenilia. I’ve only read one of their novels: Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. However, I think this worked in my favor when it came to Worlds of Ink and Shadow, and I probably enjoyed this more because I knew so little going in.
Worlds of Ink and Shadow follows the Brontë siblings during their adventures in Vedropolis, the alternate world based upon their writings. In Vedropolis, the characters and stories they write come to life, and the siblings are able to become participants in these fictional tales in order to escape their unhappy everyday lives back in England. This was perhaps the most interesting aspect of the entire story for me – I loved seeing how they interact with their characters, how they were able to manipulate the stories while in Vedropolis. Lena Coakley actually uses the same places and characters from the Brontës’ juvenilia; the Angria and Gondal that you read about are as the siblings originally wrote them.
Throughout Worlds of Ink and Shadow, the reader sees connections to the siblings’ future writings, specifically Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. While I appreciated seeing these threads, it came across heavy handedly at times: Emily is always on the moor and likes foul-tempered characters, Charlotte is nearly described just short of ugly but aspires to be more than a governess, and Anne is quiet but likes things to be realistic. It’s nice at first, but eventually these themes become as obvious as the symbols in a Nathaniel Hawthorne story.
You may have noticed that I am yet to mention Branwell, the only Brontë brother. That’s largely because Branwell is made completely unforgettable. This is rather amazing, considering that he takes up so much of the actual story. But I can’t tell you a thing about Branwell Brontë other than he liked to drink and was a decent painter. He is not given the same care as his sisters, and it definitely comes across to the reader. Branwell feels more like a character from Vedropolis than an equal counterpart to Charlotte, Emily, and Anne.
For me, things fell apart at the end. The siblings’ characters are starting to act independently of their stories, and the Brontës are losing control over Vedropolis. While I liked this in theory, in execution it deteriorated into something all too confusing. Further, I genuinely did not like the “big reveal” regarding how it is that the Brontës could create and travel to Vedropolis in the first place.
What made Worlds of Ink and Shadow work so well is that it is a uniquely atmospheric book. I felt pulled into the Brontës’ lives, and the relationship dynamics between all four helped endear me to these characters. I’m definitely intrigued to read more of their novels now, and I think that this book does a great job of humanizing these classic literary figures. If you’re new to the Brontës like me, or a devoted reader already, this was an enjoyable and magical look into their younger years.
Rating: 3.5 stars
*I received a free ARC via Netgalley/the publisher in exchange for an honest review.