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The Glass Town Game by Catherynne Valente (Review)

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The Glass Town Game by Catherynne Valente (@booksinboston)

The Glass-Town Game is a middle-grade novel by Catherynne Valente. Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Anne Brönte grow up in their small Yorkshire parsonage. They spend their free time in a make-believe world called Glass Town which helps them escape the fact that Charlotte and Emily must, at the end of summer, return to their evil boarding school. The world they create for and submit their toys to includes real-world personalities like Napolean Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington.

Branwell, as the only brother, is tutored at home, as is Anne who is too little to go to boarding school. Their father sends Bran (with Anne for company) as a chaperone for Charlotte and Emily on the day they must leave for the school. There, on the train platform in Keighley, they encounter someone they dub “the Magazine Man”, and the resultant train actually takes them to the world of their invention, which has grown elements not of their creation. The siblings need all their wits and courage about them if they are to survive and return safely to England.

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Now, I adored the Fairyland series by the same author. And many of the elements that made it enjoyable are present here (whimsy, word-play, imagination). But, so are other ones that made this book a disappointment.

The personalities of the children never grew beyond their traits. As a friend pointed out (I buddy read this with her), the characters were already “fixed” to what they were going to grow up to be. There was no development, no growth, and for me, each sibling never grew into a three-dimensional person (though there are some attempts on Bran’s part).

The world-building is detailed but not enough time is spent contextualising it within the larger picture. What are the stakes? (The ones offered aren’t really gripping.) What’s the focus of the story? What, actually, are the rules that govern this world?

With the plot being pretty thin and juvenile (with very little emotional payoff or real resolution at the end), many of the descriptions only bogged down the pace of the story, and it was confusing as to what was going on and why. I read after that this grew out of a short story and you can tell. It would have made a really engaging tight longer short story or novella than an unevenly paced 500+ page book.

There were clever asides and references to the Bröntes and other events and people throughout the book that I quite enjoyed, but the intended audience probably won’t. And of course there’s all the foreshadowing about the trajectories and truths of the adult lives of these 4 siblings. I’m not the biggest Brönte fan (Anne is the only sibling whose work I haven’t yet read) and hence not the most knowledgeable about their lives, so maybe there was more that I missed. In fact, until yesterday, I didn’t know that Glass Town, Angria and Gondal were created by the original Brönte siblings.

Overall, I enjoyed parts of it (there are some gorgeous illustrations by Rebecca Green), but I wanted to like it more than I ended up doing. I certainly still want to other other work by this author. Any recommendations?

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