Book Reviews

Review: “Worlds of Ink and Shadow,” Lena Coakley

January 10, 2016

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,” Lena CoakleyWorlds of Ink & Shadowby Lena Coakley
Series: Standalone
Published by Atheneum on January, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Gothic, Historical
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Book Depository | Booktopia

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.

Worlds of Ink & Shadow was utterly superb. Being my first foray into Lena Coakley’s writing (I’ve wanted to read Witchlanders for the longest time) I was incredibly impressed with the quality of writing, character development and uniqueness! A perfect blend of historical fantasy, gothic horror and based on ‘real’ figures in history to boot!

“What hard and wicked children we’ve become.”

I must admit that I haven’t read any of the Bronte’s novels. I have heard, however, all about Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Before going into Worlds of Ink and Shadow, I decided to read up a little bit on the family thanks to Wikipedia. I also went back to that page AFTER reading the book. I just wanted to learn more about them, and see what they looked like. Thank you, Lena Coakley, for piquing my interest enough.

I’m always thrilled to read books based around fictionalised versions of real people. I love seeing how the author weaves real facts in with fiction, often offering fantastical explanations for how and why their lives went certain ways. In the case of Worlds of Ink and Shadow, Lena Coakley takes the juvenile writings of the four Bronte siblings and creates a reason WHY they all died so young. It really took my breath away.

“Isn’t it remarkable? How one can become attached to fictional people.”
– Anne

The eldest Bronte, Charlotte (author of Jane Eyre) is the stoic and responsible sister. She’s fascinated by romantic tales of chivalry and glorious deaths. Her contributions to the world of Verdopolis is it’s shiny hero, Zamora, and his elegant palace of marble and gold. Everything about him is perfect, as with his wife, but for some reason, she can’t make him seem REAL like the characters her siblings conjure up.

Branwell, the only male child of the family, is responsible for creating Verdopolis’ dark underbelly – including its main villain, the unforgiving and merciless ‘Rogue’. Rather than hiding under a character disguise, Branwell loves to throw himself into the action and become part of his stories (albeit a more polished version of his simple Yorkshire self).

Emily is the black sheep of the family (and later, author of Wuthering Heights). Cast out from Verdopolis with younger Anne as children (in order to protect them, say Branwell and Charlotte) she yearns for a world of her own and to be reunited with a character she’s fallen for – Branwell’s dark and mysterious Rogue. She has a taste for the dark, often surprising her siblings and a knack for being reckless and making impulse decisions.

Anne is the meek, youngest sibling and sister. Preferring the real world to Verdopolis, she doesn’t have any real yearning to go back to the fantastical worlds of ink and shadow. Though too shy to speak to her own father or aunt at the best of times, she is incredibly brave and would risk all to keep her sisters and brother safe.

There is some really great character development going on here in Worlds of Ink and Shadow. Each chapter is narrated by a different Bronte sibling, and there is such a contrast between their personalities that shows. Each sibling has dealt with the deaths of their eldest siblings Maria and Elizabeth in a different way, and therefore what they ‘want’ out of Verdopolis is vastly different.

I loved how the Bronte’s crossed the worlds, and how they were able to narrate their stories into existence once there. How amazing would that be? If they chose it, they were also able to become part of the story as themselves or in a different disguise. Charlotte chose to masquerade as her hero’s youngest brother, while Emily and Branwell became their ‘best selves’.

The reason for this unbelievable ability was brought to light and although it was terrifying, you could still see how the Bronte’s were drawn to risking all for the characters they’d given life to.

There was also a great sense of the world the Brontes were living in, in the ‘real’ world. The stark moors were gloomy and the lack of prospects for the female Brontes was disheartening. You could understand how three girls were easily swept away into their fantasy world. Sickness and superstition ran rife (their own father was a clergyman) and they’d already lost two sisters to consumption prior to the events of Worlds of Ink and Shadow.

“I feel them – all the little lies of this house. They are beginning to take their toll.”

Though their fantasy world seems perfect and untouchable, things of course start to go wrong. Their characters begin living lives of their own and even begin seeping into the Bronte’s real life as tortured souls. Zamora and Rogue, along with other notable characters, begin questioning their existence and the influence of the ‘Geniis’ (creators) of their world.

Worlds of Ink and Shadow is incredibly dark and chilling at times, but it’s wonderful. I was completely sold on the fact that it was a solid explanation for their true lives in history (ha, imagine that!). Lena Coakley did an incredible amount of research into the siblings and their early writings. It was fantastic to see the stems of their classics begin within this book and their stories of Verdopolis and Gondal.

I would whole-heartedly recommend Worlds of Ink and Shadow to anyone with the tiniest amount of fascination into the Bronte family (seriously, read their Wikipedia page!) or anyone who loves reading well-written historical fantasy.

About Lena Coakley

Lena Coakley was born in Milford, Connecticut and grew up on Long Island. In High School, Creative Writing was the only course she ever failed (nothing was ever good enough to hand in!), but, undeterred, she went on to study writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Toronto, Canada.


  • Reply Kelly January 15, 2016 at 3:18 am

    Britt, you had me at Brontë. I’m actually surprised, I would have picked you for a Jane Eyre fan actually. It’s one of my favourite classics. It sounds incredible and wonderfully researched. I need a copy! Absolutely brilliant review Britt and thank you for putting this one on my radar, I might never have discovered it otherwise <3 <3
    Kelly recently posted…Ohh, she’s trouble alright… The best kind of troubleMy Profile

  • Reply Cait @ Paper Fury January 14, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    Omg, I had NO IDEA this was like a Bronte sisters book. o-O Yes I forget to read blurbs frequently. I do want to read it a lot now, although, I don’t really know about the Brontes? I kind of quit Jane Eyre because Iw as feeling traumatised. XD But I want to see how the author pulls this off! Is it fiction and just based on a few facts? Or is it more non-fiction? I neeeeed to read it clearly. XD

    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!
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  • Reply Bec @ Readers in Wonderland January 13, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    I love dark novels, and this is historical with great character development… I might have to check it out soon. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!
    Bec @ Readers in Wonderland recently posted…Top Ten 2015 Releases We Meant To Get To But Didn’tMy Profile

  • Reply Tracy (@Cornerfolds) January 12, 2016 at 3:50 am

    Um… This sounds AMAZING! I had never heard of this book before now, but I love Wuthering Heights and I would absolutely love to know more about the Bronte sisters! Great review :D
    Tracy (@Cornerfolds) recently posted…Book Review: Legacy of Kings by Eleanor HermanMy Profile

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