Goodreads: Worlds of Ink and Shadow
Charlotte and Branwell Brontë possess the secret of literally jumping into their imaginary world of Verdopolis, and their sister Emily is tired of being left behind. Once all three of them, along with Anne, travelled there together as the all-powerful Genii, but now the elder Brontës keep that power to themselves. Charlotte and Branwell, however, pay a price the others do not see. Will the four of them ever be able to escape the mysterious hold that Verdopolis has on them?
Worlds of Ink and Shadow works very well as a fantasy novel, but will probably appeal most readers who possess some knowledge both of the Brontës’ literary work and of their biographies. Inspired by their juvenalia, full of references to their later works, and grounded in the tragedy of the sisters’ mistreatment at a boarding school, the book’s resonances fully come alive only for those who have the ability to catch all the references. Even without them, however, the story is an engrossing and somewhat spooky read, the kind that will haunt readers as they devour it through the night.
Coakley expertly weaves biographical details of the Brontës’ lives into this fantasy, playing most with their juvenalia but also alluding to Branwell’s alcohol problem, the death of the elder Brontë sisters (Maria and Elizabeth), Emily’s penchant for wild things and dangerous men, and Charlotte’s dismal expectations as an impoverished woman. I could easily imagine that much of this would make little sense to the uninitiated, especially because we do not now associate the Brontës with fantasy writing and Charotte Brontë receives most of the general populace’s attention. However, it’s an incredibly fun read for people who love the Brontës, and it never seems stretched or far-fetched. Coakley seamlessly merges the fantastical with real life.
The fantastic side of this story is highly engrossing, featuring the Brontës jumping into the literary world of Verdopolis that they have created. There the villain Alexander Rogue dissolutely drinks, kidnaps women, and duels with his rival, the heroic Zamorna–a perfect man if he were not such a womanizer. But it takes much strength for the Brontës to continue to guide the story and at times it seems that the characters might be breaking free. Might even suspect that they are being played with like puppets. And soon the world the Brontës thought of as their own threatens to turn on them.
So whether you enjoy the writings of the Brontë sisters or a good fantasy or a good historical fantasy, this may just be the book for you. It feels fresh and original, avoiding the usual tropes of YA to focus instead on the power of stories and the bonds between siblings. Hopefully we’ll see much more of Coakley’s work.