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I received this e-ARC from NetGalley and ABRAMS Kids in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: January 5th, 2016

Synopsis: Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Bronte 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. 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 the dashing Duke of Zamorna–refuse to let them go. 

I’ve been fascinated by the Bronte family since I first did a report on Charlotte in 8th grade. When I saw this book offered on NetGalley I was a little hesitant because I couldn’t imagine turning their rather tragic story into a fantasy, but in the end my curiosity got the better of me and I’m glad it did.

For anyone not familiar with the Bronte siblings they’re almost as famous for their early deaths as they are for their creative talents. Charlotte (1816-1855) is best known as the author of Jane Eyre. Not to be outdone, Emily (1818-1848) wrote Wuthering Heights. And then there’s Anne’s (1820-1849) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Their brother Branwell (1817-1848) also shared his sisters’ creative spark and was a talented painter and poet despite suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction. There were two other sisters; Elizabeth (1815-1825) and Maria (1814-1825) who both died after attending the Cowan Bridge School where they suffered from hunger and cold among other extreme conditions. 

 Worlds of Ink and Shadows opens after the deaths of Maria and Elizabeth. Charlotte and Branwell are close but extremely competitive with their writing. Together they’ve created the glittering world of Verdopolis, which thanks to a bargain with a mysterious villain, literally comes to life, and the siblings regularly visit and interact with their characters and story. Charlotte is a perfectionist who obsesses over every detail not only in her writing, but also in the real world. Knowing that all her future holds for her is either marriage or becoming a governess, her writing gives Charlotte the measure of control that she misses in her life. Branwell at first comes across as being a bit arrogant but underneath he feels just as helpless as his sister when it comes to their futures and the societal expectations hovering over them. 

Emily is the dewey-eyed romantic who is impetuous at times but is still an endearing character. Anne, (my personal favorite) is the painfully shy genius who winds up being the linchpin that holds the family together. Both Emily and Anne are jealous of Charlotte and Branwell over their ability to escape their bleak lives, and don’t understand why they can’t join them. Once they discover the terrible price Charlotte and Branwell have agreed to pay, it takes the four of them working together to reclaim their lives and put an end to the madness.

All of the characters are well written and multidimensional. The story is told from each of the siblings perspectives but it’s never confusing. Hearing the events that unfold in each of their voices lends a deeply personal and almost intimate essence to the plot.

The world-building is incredible and the characters of the dashing, heroic Zamorna, and the rakish villain Rogue, are just as interesting as the Brontes. They’re so well developed and complex that they could have a book written just about them! 

I think the most intriguing part of the book is the premise. If you’re a bibliophile like me, you’ve probably read quite a few stories or written some that you fervently wished would come to life. Well, what would you do if your wish was granted and your characters not only sprang to life but also demanded to control their own destinies? You can see why this would be quite a conundrum. 

Worlds of Ink and Shadows starts off a little slow but quickly gains momentum. Lena Coakley’s writing is beautifully descriptive and her attention to detail will make you feel like you’re part of the story. She does a credible job combining the very real history of the Bronte family with the fantasy and supernatural elements. Historical purists may be displeased with the liberties the author has taken in regards to the siblings, but otherwise this book should appeal to YA and adult readers of both historical fiction as well as fantasy. It’s an enchanting story and I’m looking forward to seeing what Lena Coakley comes up with next.