Review: Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena CoakleyWorlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley
Published by Amulet Books on January 5, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Retelling
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
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three-stars

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 Brontës’ juvenilia, Worlds of Ink & Shadow brings to life one of history’s most celebrated literary families.

To start with, I was a bit skeptical of Worlds of Ink and Shadow. I mean, part of me very cannot resist anything historical. I’m much more of an Austen fan than a Brontë one, but that doesn’t mean I could pass this by, even though I tend to be annoyed by reimaginings of historical figures. The reviews started rolling in and they were decidedly meh. Still, I persevered. To my surprise, I quite enjoyed Worlds of Ink and Shadow, though I do also have some things that make me go hmmm.

The pacing of Worlds of Ink and Shadow is slow, and I suspect a lot of readers will struggle with that. I actually found it a pleasant read. It helps, I think, that I grew up reading classics, and I think Coakley caught that tone really well. It doesn’t read like a Brontë novel, but there’s something about the mood that’s precisely on point, which imo is more important than using a whole bunch of big, outdated words.

It helps, too, that I know very little off the life of the Brontë siblings. In fact, I’d forgotten the sisters had a brother. About all I knew was their pseudonyms and that they all wrote. This gave me some distance to appreciate what the book was doing without worrying about historical accuracy as much as I would otherwise (which is why the historical figure ones often irk me).

At first, I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the paranormal element of Worlds of Ink and Shadow, but I ended up enjoying it. The way that Charlotte and Branwell can write themselves into their stories and take part as characters is very cool. Charlotte and Branwell serve as examples of two different writing styles: hers heavily controlled and his more character-driven. It was an interesting way to look at the craft of  writing.

The book alternates between historical England and Verdopolis, the fictional world created by Charlotte and Branwell. Based on a simple Google, I was able to verify early on that Coakley is building on Charlotte’s actual juvenilia, and that made it so great mostly because it’s SO bad. Like, it’s every terrible romance cliche, and it’s done poorly. Poor Charlotte keeps trying to get her studly hero, Zamorna, to actually fall in love with his heroine she gave to him, and he keeps having affairs. Then, of course, the wives die tragically with their handmaidens. It’s a strong argument for not giving up on your writing just because your first stuff sucked, because obviously she got way better.

I also delighted in the portrayals of both Charlotte and Emily. They both clearly have a type, and the loving mockery of it super amused me. Charlotte’s Zamorna is a clear precursor to Rochester; you can clearly see how Jane Eyre was born from her juvenilia, which is really cool. Emily, on the other hand, fancies herself in love with the story’s villain, cunningly called Rogue, who has serious Heathcliff vibes. I was both super amused by this and marginally annoyed that their writings come down to wish fulfillment for both of them from this point of view.

Another thing that I felt sort of unsure about was Branwell. Now I know that he’s marginalized by history, but like did he really have to be a POV character? Women so often get to dominate a historical story, so it was a bit irking to me that he and Charlotte were clearly the most important characters, with Emily and Anne slightly less so. It does make sense in the context of the story but still. It also didn’t help that Branwell kept complaining about how hard it is to be male, middle class and white. Like, yes, you have struggles Branwell, but you’re also going to inherit and not be sent off to be a governess. Plus, four POVs was a bit much, since they weren’t the most lifelike ever.

Though I’ve not yet read Anne Brontë, I fully expect to like her books the most of the three. As such, I was annoyed to see the way she was treated. She comes off as the least talented of the siblings, the least into writing. She criticizes Charlotte’s stories (rightly) for being unrealistic; she comes across as stodgy and boring much of the time, just because she doesn’t want to cross into made-up worlds like they do, like she commits herself less to writing. But hey at least she didn’t fall in love with a fictional character like her sisters did.

Worlds of Ink and Shadow kept my attention and gave me food for thought. I’m glad I read it, even though the PDF was the worst (taking seconds to load each page). Recommended for readers who enjoy the classics.

Favorite Quote:

“Screaming is a very sensible response to a kidnapping, in my opinion. But no, I’d be meek as a lamb. I’d faint a lot and sigh like a bruised flower. Then, when you least expected it, I’d stab you in the eye without own knife and steal your horse.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif how could you have left me wuthering heights

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