Reimagined as detectives, the Brontë sisters kick-start their writing careers by solving a mystery in this detailed if dubiously grounded novel.
Having lost their mother and several siblings at an early age, the remaining Brontë siblings deal with grief in their own ways: Prim Charlotte grudgingly shoulders responsibility for her family; eccentric Emily runs wild on the moors; reprobate brother Branwell drinks and falls into bad company. Both Charlotte and Emily enjoy writing—Charlotte writes fantasy bodice-rippers, while Emily tends toward the darker stuff—and find sudden inspiration in the strange occurrences in their little town of Haworth. Despite their differences, the teenage sisters unite to solve the (much-belabored) mystery of a madwoman, a long-lost heir and unscrupulous Freemasons. Already familiar with death, the girls also get to experience love, albeit briefly. Sharing narrative responsibility, Emily and Charlotte are distinctive and well-drawn characters, though their depictions are somewhat complicated by the mixture of real biographic details, literary hagiography and modern free-spiritedness. MacColl works hard to connect the real-life Brontës’ books to an imagined source in a fictional adventure, blending quotes from Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights with her own historical fantasy.
Equal parts gothic melodrama and Nancy Drew derring-do. (Historical fiction. 12-16)