THE GLASS TOWN GAME
CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: M-G, FANTASY, HISTORICAL
Inside a small Yorkshire parsonage, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë have invented a game called Glass Town, where their toy soldiers fight Napoleon and no one dies. This make-believe land helps the four escape from a harsh reality: Charlotte and Emily are being sent away to a dangerous boarding school, a school they might not return from. But on this Beastliest Day, the day Anne and Branwell walk their sisters to the train station, something incredible happens: the train whisks them all away to a real Glass Town, and the children trade the moors for a wonderland all their own.
This is their Glass Town, exactly like they envisioned it…almost. They certainly never gave Napoleon a fire-breathing porcelain rooster instead of a horse. And their soldiers can die; wars are fought over the potion that raises the dead, a potion Anne would very much like to bring back to England. But when Anne and Branwell are kidnapped, Charlotte and Emily must find a way to save their siblings. Can two English girls stand against Napoleon’s armies, especially now that he has a new weapon from the real world? And if he escapes Glass Town, will England ever be safe again?
The Glass Town Glass is a lovely little book and the first I’ve read by Catherynne Valente. It clever weaves together a fantasy portal-type adventure with historical events, real-life figures and the Brontë’s fictional creations.
The writing is incredibly beautiful and very descriptive. The story-telling style has a whimsical quality which reminded me of Alice in Wonderland or Tahereh Mafi’s Furthermore.
Valente clearly loves the Brontë’s and their work, and this comes through very strongly in the book. Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell all feel like complete, well-rounded characters while also being true to the historical accounts of their personalities. There’s dozens of nods to their lives (Charlotte & Emily goes undercover at a Glass Town ball as Curran and Ellis Bell, names they originally published under) and little in-jokes towards Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey etc. (the girls say they come from Thurshcross Grange and discuss the suitability of Heathcliff as a heroic name). There are lots of other little cameos — Byron, Jane Austen, Wellington, Napoleon and Josephine and a young Princess Victoria.
Personally, I loved all these little touches and thought they really added to the journey through Glass Town. However, it does leave me a little flummoxed as to who The Glass Town Game is actually aimed at. Its a middle-grade book (and it does this well) but I’m not sure how many of these references most MG readers would catch, and without them, I don’t think the book would be quite as enjoyable. My four-star rating is for me personally, but it’s probably a three or three-and-a-half if you don’t have at least a little background interest in the Brontës.