This lovely ARC of The Glass Town Game has been sitting in my TBR shelf since the Ottawa Blogger Meetup. It was too big for me to take on vacation, so I had to wait till I got home to start it. If you count September as the beginning of fall, then this book was my last summer read, and am I ever glad of it!
The Brontë siblings, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Ann, spend their days playing games about a place called Glass Town. They imagine a fantastic group of characters including their toy soldiers and Napoleon. The best part: in their games, no one ever dies.
But their games are soon to end, since Charlotte and Emily are being sent away to a dangerous boarding school. Only, when the four siblings prepare to part ways, a train whisks them all away to the world of their games. The real Glass Town is almost as they envisioned it – fantastic settings, their favourite toys come to life. But there are some differences. They never imagined Napoleon on a fire-breathing rooster made of porcelain, or a war fought over a potion to bring back the dead.
When Napoleon’s best spy kidnaps Branwell and Ann, Charlotte and Emily must go to their rescue. With a new weapon threatening Glass Town, all four children must navigate their responsibilities as potential creators of the world they find themselves in and as siblings to stop Napoleon’s conquest.
Let’s get into it…
Charlotte Brontë holds a dear place in my heart because Jane Eyre was one of the first classic novels I ever read. I got it from my aunt, and in turn recommended it to a friend. So it’s a reminder of not only my early love of reading, but also of the bonds it created between me and my loved ones. So, a fantasy novel based on her and her siblings seemed like it could be great fun. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say there wasn’t a bit of reservation on my part going in. It can be hard to let something you love be handled by someone else. Luckily, Catherynne M. Valente did a fantastic job of imagining Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Anne.
I can’t speak of the other siblings much, since I’ve never read their work nor much about them, but I very much enjoyed Valente’s version of Charlotte. She’s knows what she wants, and she knows how to get it – even if it means stretching the truth. She doesn’t have much patience for gender roles, preferring to take the lead.
The other siblings each have their own quirks and talents that I assume relate to the real Brontës. It was quite fun to pick out the references to their lives and works. I’m sure someone with more knowledge would be equally if not more impressed than I was with how Valente works in allusions and quotations. I particularly loved Charlotte’s interactions with a Glass Town version of Jane Austin and Emily’s interactions with Glass Town Lord Byron.
Aside from the references, the big selling points of this book is the writing and word building. It reads very much like a bedtime story (you can totally picture an English nanny reading it aloud). The characters, made of various household materials, are a delicate balance of absurd and fantastic, rivaling those of Narnia and Gulliver’s Travels. I even felt there were a few similarities to Douglas Adam’s writing in the various explanations and personifications Valente included. (My very favourite was Bestminster, the girls’ luggage turned living transportation method.)
There’s just so much going on in this novel. There’s the fun world exploration and quest aspects along deeper musings on life, death, and responsibility. There’s sibling rivalry and gender expectations. (Branwell struggles to do good because he wants to be a man and protect his sisters.) There are ball scenes and battles, scheming and travel – just about everything you’d want and expect from a fantasy like this.
All in all, it’s an incredibly charming book. It’s recommended for ages ten (grade five) and up. However, I think it could be a fun book for parents and kids to read together.
Oh, and it’s supposed to have illustrations, but they’re not included in the ARC. I’ll have to get my hands on a finished copy, because I suspect they’ll be quite good. There are lots of cool descriptions that I think would translate well to pictures, so I’d like to see them.
Final thoughts: The Glass Town Game is a fantastically charming imagining of literary figures in their youth. It is as entertaining for its plot as it is for its literary and historical allusions.