Discussion Review: Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

Sunday, January 10, 2016
Title: Worlds of Ink and Shadow
Author: Lena Coakley
Genre: historical fiction, supernatural fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Published: January 2016
Source: publishers via NetGalley

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.

Jessie: So. Worlds of Ink and Shadow. I have to admit I was drawn to this story for four reasons. #1) Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte and #2) the title.

Lyn: The cover is so beautiful, and I really loved the idea of creating this meta storyline with the Bronte sisters. So I was drawn to the different approach to a semi-autobiography of the sisters and their earlier stories and homelife! I really enjoyed seeing the inspiration and groundwork for what would become classic novels and characters eventually.

Jessie: I was not aware of quite of meta this would get -- or how much of the book was based on real stories of the Bronte children from when they were growing up. It’s a creative way to write about some very popular historical figures in a new way.

Lyn: I wish that the book would have used more of the stories, but after reading the ending, I believe a lot of them were lost. It just seemed like such a wonderful idea, and it was hardly used. Like the author was too afraid of damaging or dabbling too much into the inside story of some beloved writers and their lives. It was very….held back.

Jessie: Yes! I wanted more emotion, more depth. I mean, as soon as we meet some characters you can tell who they are meant to be. I mean… one was basically Heathcliff With A Different Name. I wanted more meat on the bones; it’s all very withdrawn and… pale? The feelings I should have felt at crucial moments… just weren’t there.

Lyn: When we had something come forward, it was pulled back and castrated. I loved the part where Charlotte is haunted by perfection, where everyone must face off against their own fears, and really look over the characters and see the evolve, but as soon as these ideas start to develop, it is cut off, like you would tell an overly excited child to stop chattering. It was like the next-to-the-last draft of the final novel. I wonder if it was due to the subject material. These are some pretty popular authors. And it is going to be hard to please all of the Bronte crowd. But like you said, you could see the archetypes of the characters happening, and then shoved to the side. It was maddening, and the book was like a huge trailer for the Bronte books.

Jessie: That is the exact feeling I got. You don’t really get to know these characters besides the way they have been presented for the last 150 years. I started this novel barely knowing anything about Branwell and I finished it the same way. I wanted liiiiife. It’s weird that in a book about people giving life to imaginary characters… that those main characters themselves have no life to them.

Lyn: Yes! It was sadly flat, and it had so much going for it! And I wanted to know more about the older two sisters as well. There was so much history to explore. Working with real people, and using them as real characters is honestly tricky. The author stuck to some very legitimate material, but when you are using flesh and blood, historical muses, it is going to cause some issues, and it weighed down the book. It drug down the story as much as it enticed me to read it. Would you use real people as characters in a novel you wrote? I think it would be tough, almost violating someone to use them as a fictional character.

Jessie: It was the definition of an average read for me. I had no strong feelings about it and it makes me sad because these women were such fascinating people. I wanted to like it more than I did. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been but it was also nowhere near as good as it could have been with a livelier cast and a more thought-out plot.

Lyn: It had promise, and you could see it come though in little glimmers, but, yes, it was just mediocre, and I had to bribe myself to finish it. Anyone who is a Bronte fanatic will enjoy it, but I was expecting something a bit more from such a rich material source. The ending notes were more fascinating that most of the story.

Overall, 3 stars. It had a few wonderful moments, but I’m not going to remember this one in about a month.

Jessie: 2.5 - 3 stars, agreed. I finished this a bit before you and am honestly having issues remembering any real feeling for or about this novel. I mean.. this is our shortest review together. We are verbose people and our verbosity is stifled by nonemotions.  I have not much to say about it because there’s not much there to talk about.

Lyn: WOMP WOMP. Yeah, if we come here and kinda just phonically shrug at one another….that pretty much speaks volumes right there.

Jessie: THAT’S IT. This is the book form of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

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