By Liz Braswell
If you consider yourself a lover of great novels, you have undoubtedly come across the age-old debate of Austen versus Brontë. Tim Powers, known for his exploration of 19th-century literary themes in works like “The Stress of Her Regard” and “Hide Me Among the Graves,” takes readers on a wild journey with his latest book, “My Brother’s Keeper.”
Powers immerses us in a gothic retelling of the lives of the Brontë sisters and their brother, Branwell. While some may associate him more with his award-winning novel “The Anubis Gates” or even my personal teenage favorite, “Dinner at Deviant’s Palace,” this new work showcases his ability to captivate fans of speculative fiction.
In “My Brother’s Keeper,” Powers weaves a tale that could easily be described as “Wuthering Heights and the Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Werewolves” – a nod to the popular trend of combining classic stories with supernatural elements, as seen in “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” However, it’s important to note that this is not merely a parody.
The story begins with a chilling premise: three children engaging in a game of make-believe to communicate with the deceased. These children happen to be Anne, Emily, and Branwell Brontë (with Charlotte absent from the game). Years later, it becomes apparent that the siblings may have made a deal with a malevolent spirit accidentally brought into their Yorkshire home from Ireland by their father. Now, this apparition seeks to reunite with its equally powerful and deceased sister.
A Gripping Tale: “My Brother’s Keeper”
Years later, a chance encounter on the moors thrusts adult Emily into an unexpected adventure. She stumbles upon a wounded and grumpy man, Alcuin Curzon, only to discover that he is a reluctant werewolf entangled in the tragic death of his fiancée. Driven by vengeance, he seeks retribution against a tribe of malevolent shapeshifters. Surprisingly, these sinister beings are under the control of an evil spirit who holds a debt owed by the famous Brontë family.
In “My Brother’s Keeper,” the merging of real-life biography with the spine-chilling horror is masterfully executed. Drawing on the Brontës’ Irish heritage, particularly their father’s origins as Brunty, the story weaves this fact into its core narrative. Additionally, the portrayal of their early years accurately captures the family’s rich imagination and literary upbringing. Long before their renowned novels, the Brontës delved into the creation of plays, books, and poetry set in a shared fantasy world. Drawing inspiration from biographical fact, the character of Tabby, the Yorkshire housekeeper, regales the siblings with captivating local tales of hauntings and fairies.
Moreover, “My Brother’s Keeper” skillfully incorporates historically authentic details that extend beyond the confines of the Brontës’ story. The intricate mechanics of 19th-century firearms add a layer of complexity to the plot. Although Emily may appear somewhat nonchalant while firing a weapon at bloodthirsty monsters lurking on the moor, it creates a captivating juxtaposition with her character.
Occasionally, the complex entanglement of English werewolves, one-eyed cyclopes, and both Roman and Celtic heathen gods can make the narrative feel weighty. However, amidst these complexities, “My Brother’s Keeper” thrives as an atmospheric period piece, ideally suited for darkening October nights. Its eerie ambiance will leave readers enthralled until the very end.