YA Book Reviews

Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

This is a bit less in-depth than my typical reviews, as I’m packing for a week-long trip up to New England for my stepdad’s birthday, and haven’t had much time to put into reviews this weekend. I should be all settled by Monday after recovering from my mini road trip. I had the immense pleasure of starting The Rose and the Dagger on Thursday afternoon, so keep a weather eye out for a review this coming week. So far: absolutely fabulous. Check out my commentary on Goodreads as I continue reading!

Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been close. After all, nothing can unite four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict, spartan 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.

I don’t know much about the Brontë siblings aside from their respective Wikipedia entries, but I was immediately sucked in by this vivid and haunting tale about their early lives and writings in Yorkshire. I originally had no idea the Brontë sisters even had a brother – however, his part in the story is one of the most poignant and surprising of them all.

Branwell slammed his palette down onto his desk and turned to point at Charlotte with a paintbrush. “You can’t stand the fact that if future generations remember you for anything at all, it will be for being Branwell Brontë’s sister.”

Charlotte and Emily are absolutely the most well-known of all the Brontë siblings, but it was a difficult time to be a woman and a writer, especially for Charlotte who constantly faced the threat of having to give up writing to be a governess full-time. So much of their early adolescense was devoted to creating these breathtaking stories with immaculate detail, chasing away the hollow feeling left by the deaths of their mother, Maria, and two elder sisters from tuberculosis. This book left me pleasantly surprised by how much I felt myself emphatizing with each character considering how much I disliked reading novels like Jane Eyre in my high school AP English courses. I believe it was Branwell who stuck out the most for me, with resonating quotes that reflected his true legacy, mirroring the earlier quote back at him:

Elizabeth turned and handed him the brush. “If history remembers you at all, it will be for being Charlotte Brontë’s brother.” He gasped, stung by the words, but it was odd that as soon as he heard them, he knew they were true. Like a prophecy. Like a curse. 

In real life, Charlotte and Branwell wrote about their jointly imagined country, Angria, and Emily and Anne often wrote about Gondal. These elaborate creations they obsessed over as children inspired many of their early works as individual adult writers, including Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and there are clear themes linking the juvenile imaginings reflected in this fiction novel to the actual works of literature. Though not necessarily the most accurate portrayals of each Brontë sibling, Worlds of Ink and Shadow manages to cast an honest likeness that young adults can likely relate to more than the brooding and shallow protagonists of the classic literature many of them will be asked to read for high school English courses. Those of us who have long since graduated can still find a thoughtful and imaginative story between the pages of Lena Coakley’s sophomore novel. Seconding a review from Teen Reads, I’d recommend this book to fans of The Diviners and Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children for writing similarities and the creativity that goes into young adult historical fiction.

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6 thoughts on “Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

      1. Yeah, well I did the creepy stalker thing of looking through all your things looking for it hahah

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  1. This novel sounds really interesting – I know very little about the Brontes, although Wuthering Heights is one of my favourite books of all time. I’ll definitely be adding this one to my TBR list.

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