The good news: I enjoyed Michaela MacColl’s Always Emily far more than I enjoyed Nobody’s Secret. The not-so-good news: That was a pretty low bar to hit.

However! Always Emily didn’t just hit that bar, it surpassed it by leaps and bounds. Although there are a few problematic aspects, it has plenty to recommend it, the first of which is the premise: Charlotte and Emily Brontë have run-ins with various people—a desperate, possibly mad woman; a handsome ruffian with a big dog; an attractive-but-probably-evil mill owner (I mean, come on: He has a POINTY BEARD!)—who all, it turns out, are involved in the same mysterious drama that also involves the local Freemason lodge and their brother Branwell.

As the cover art and the name “Brontë” suggest, the book features plenty of misty atmosphere and high drama, and while it’s not necessary to have read them to enjoy the book, fans of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights will have fun spotting the many, many parallels. The mystery itself isn’t particularly strong—most readers will have it figured out before the pieces are even all in play—and neither is the dialogue, most of which would be more believable in a contemporary setting than in 1835: “Oh, Branwell, what have you gotten yourself into this time?”. (Sad note to other Brontë fans: As usual, poor old Anne gets thrown under the bus and spends the entirety of the adventure off-screen, in Scarborough. Someday! Someday she’ll get her day in the sun! Or, more appropriately in this case, in the mist!)

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Where the book excels is in creating a portrait of the Haworth household. Branwell is satisfyingly odious and pathetic—unfair as it may be, I can’t help blaming him for the ever-annoying theory that he was the true author of Wuthering Heights*—there are lots of interesting details about their father as well as about Charlotte and Emily’s writing habits. Best of all—except for the Author’s Note at the end that is packed full of Awesome Historical Tidbits—is MacColl’s imagining of the relationship between Charlotte and Emily: They are polar opposites on the outside, they believe themselves to have nothing in common, there is sibling rivalry to spare…but they’re far more similar than they realize.

They’re both fiercely independant (Charlotte wants to be sure that the girls are capable of supporting themselves after Rev. Brontë’s death, while Emily isn’t interested in doing anything that she doesn’t want to do), they’re both passionate beings (Charlotte keeps hers under wraps, while Emily lets hers out for all to see), and they’re both curious, bright and empathetic. Don’t be fooled: Despite the title—although actually, the title ends up being more about Charlotte than about Emily—this is just as much Charlotte’s book as it is Emily’s.

Bonus entertainment for Beverly Cleary fans: As you read, keep Beezus and Ramona in mind. Ten to one says that Beezus-types will identify far more with Charlotte, while Ramona-types will identify far more with Emily. That’s certainly how it played out for me.


*Clare B. Dunkle explains the story behind this one quite nicely here. And if you haven’t read The House of Dead Maids, the book that she did all of the Brontë research for, you are IN FOR A TREAT.

If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.