Goodreads: The Glass Town Game
Published: Sept. 2017
Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë have spent countless hours imagining stories in the room at the top of the stairs. Now, however, Charlotte and Emily must go off to school–where their two older sisters died from fever. But just as it seems separation is inevitable, they find themselves in a magical world where the Duke of Wellington still fights Bonaparte. Even stranger, the world seems to be the one they themselves have created and it is populated with their toys. At first they imagine they can stay there forever. But when Branwell and Anne are kidnapped, the siblings realize that this world may be out of their control.
Catherynne Valente is one of my favorite authors. She possesses a talent for creating whimsical worlds and for writing breath-taking prose. For her to write a fantasy based on the juvenilia of the Brontë siblings is thus a dream come true. And The Glass Town Game does not disappoint. It takes readers to a magical land where toy soldiers come to life, words are surprisingly literal, and romance and danger intermingle. Any fan of fantasy will be sure to enjoy it, but fans of the Brontës may also be surprised at how engrossing Glass Town can be.
A caveat before we begin: hardcore fans of the Brontës who feel that any imaginative work based on their lives and writings is a desecration will probably not be amused. The playfulness of a land where Brown Betsys are actual women, “Old Boney” is made of bones, and the Duke of Wellington rides a lion made of water may be lost on these individuals. I delighted in the creativity and the oddity of it all–but if you’re looking for madwomen in the attic or a brooding Rochester, you may be disappointed. This is first and foremost a fantasy–one with nods to the writings of the Brontës and one based on their lives–but still a fantasy.
But, oh, what a fantasy! I wish I could return to Glass Town already! It may be full of danger and death and deception, but it also has the handsome Duke of Wellington and the alluring Lord Byron. Jane Austen, Marie Antoinette, and a host of other historical characters intermingle with women made of flowers and of metal, luggage that can come to life, and a potion that raises people from the dead. The “real” and the fantastic coexist in the chummiest way. It makes you believe in magic all over again.
And the Brontës are excellent guides through this new land. You just have to fall in love with them, from the moment you learn about the stories they create and the way they wish they could bring back their dead sisters and avoid potentially sharing the same fate. Glass Town is bizarre, but so, so much better than those terrible boarding schools! But the Brontës do not really feel sorry for themselves. Not for long. They are brave and bold and daring–and maybe just dishonest enough to get themselves out of Glass Town alive. Even Branwell, who typically comes off as annoying loser in these types of tales, is sympathetic. He wants to be bold and bright. He wants to be admired. He just…isn’t. He’s too self-absorbed to really be the type of man anyone could depend upon.
If you have already read Valente, you will not need my recommendation to read her again. If you have not, you are missing out. She is one of the best fantasy writers out there today, one whose prose is as magical as her worlds. So whether you enjoy fantasy or Valente or the Brontës–pick up this book.