Book Review: Always Emily - Michaela MacColl


Emily and Charlotte Bronte couldn't be any more different. Emily is tall, adventurous, brash, and always getting into trouble. Suddenly thrust into the role of eldest after their other two sisters die, small Charlotte is proper, bossy, and orderly. But they both are obsessed with their own fictional worlds.

The two sisters are pulled into an unexpected mystery, when Emily has a chance encounter with a stranger on the moors with a wild tale about stolen inheritance - and when Charlotte happens upon a woman running away from her captors.

For the most part, I found Always Emily to be enjoyable, the early world of the two most famous Brontes brought to beautiful life by MacColl's pretty and precise writing. I went through equal-parts frustration and sympathy with Emily and Charlotte as our protagonists. Emily's wild and adventurous spirit was contagious, but her impetuousness at times childish. Charlotte bore a heavy burden as the eldest, but was sour and jealous.

The plot itself was intriguing and held classic Gothic tropes, making it easy to see where the Brontes "might've" gained their inspiration (this is a fictional story, after all). But it held a sometimes-heavyhanded feminist vibe, with every male character having at least one moment of disparaging our heroines' gender, or a bitter comment about female restrictions. While a real enough issue in the 1840s, its continuous mention started to feel laden with personal agenda. Added to this was the very one-sided portrayal of mill owners.

However, when Always Emily focused on the plot alone, it was a relatively entertaining Gothic mystery. The romance was very depressingly short-lived and the conclusion tidily wrapped up, but both were easy to see coming.

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