Tuesday, April 8

Always Emily by Michaela MacColl

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer received a review copy of this title through Edelweiss. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Chronicle Books and is used solely as an aide to the review.

When Emily and Charlotte Brontë return home from Roe Head School, they are swept up in a world of intrigue. A stranger walks the moors, a burglar is rife, and one man's sudden death breeds whispers.

Wild with curiosity, Emily seeks out adventure, cloaked in the mysteries and romanticisms she relishes in her writing. Her sister, Charlotte, perturbed by their brother's peculiar actions, and startled by the hushed up history of their neighbour, does some investigating of her own.

The two sisters have always been so different, but they must come together to solve the mystery that plagues Haworth...before someone else meets a swift death.

An insight into two young women who broke the gender barrier and wrote timeless classics was a captivating enough premise, but entwined in mystery I was hooked. 'Always Emily' transports the reader, not only to the home and school where the two women were raised, but also into their vast imaginations.

The novel is written in third person, with alternating perspectives between Charlotte and Emily. From the start, I was shrouded in the setting of Haworth. The writing is so palpable, and I was intrigued by the history of the Brontë family, which I knew nothing of. MacColl manages to thread information about the characters throughout the story, without resorting to numerous amounts of backstory or info dumps.

The Brontë sisters are strikingly different, but equally compelling. Emily is vivacious, independent and strong-willed. Charlotte is insightful and reserved. Where Charlotte is flustered, Emily is unperturbed. Charlotte can be stoic and severe, and Emily can be reckless and rude. They are both such well-rounded characters, and while they have their differences – which provide wonderful conflict between them – they are both driven by their passion for writing. Emily and Charlotte cannot help but compare the circumstances they face to the stories they write, or imagine how they would translate something onto the page. It is a sensation that any writer can relate to, and really defined their shared nature.

I was absorbed by the plot of 'Always Emily.' MacColl established the mood of the story, as though the mystery were a cloak of fog on the moors, and managed the tension with such finesse. She had a very tactful execution of cliff-hangers, often implemented at the end of chapters, and constantly upped the stakes, thrusting the heroines into increasingly challenging situations.

Being unfamiliar with the Brontë family, I was fascinated to learn more about their history. Anne is absent for the novel, but there is still some insight from her in the letter she writes to Emily. I had no idea that there had been two older sisters who had died at a young age from tuberculosis, which they both contracted from a boarding school. The novel begins with the funeral of the second child, Elizabeth, and Emily's fearless state is only amplified by the fact that she views death as but a chance to be reunited with her sisters.

Branwell, the sole son of Rev. Brontë, was far more vital to the plot of the novel. He is somewhat of an infuriating character, and a troubled soul. It was interesting to see how he was spoiled for allowance by his father, and given much more freedom than his sisters, despite being an established wreck. It was a stark commentary on the way women were automatically devalued because of their sex, regardless of their social standing.

'Always Emily' is a riveting read, which I would recommend to anyone who loves to be swept up in a tale of adventure and intrigue. I will admit that I am utterly unfamiliar with the works of the Brontë sisters, but reading MacColl's fictional – though marvellously rooted in realism – tale of the siblings has encouraged me to seek out their work. I look forward to it, and to reading more of MacColl's writing in future.

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