Last Updated on December 6, 2023
My Brother’s Keeper is the latest novel from World Fantasy Award-winning author Tim Powers. Powers may be familiar to readers with a career spanning decades and scores of books to his name. My Brother’s Keeper is a gothic horror novel that follows the pattern of some of Powers’ other secret histories. It has taken inspiration from real people and events but weaves them into a supernatural world. Silvia Moreno-Garcia describes My Brother’s Keeper as a ‘decadent gothic bonbon,’ and she’s right. If you are not picking up My Brother’s Keeper because you are already a fan of Powers’ work, it is an enjoyable standalone novel and an excellent place to start exploring his fantasy work.
The historical elements in My Brother’s Keeper surround the Brontë family. Although the writings of the Brontës are mentioned, it is their biographical details that Powers’ has taken inspiration from. I am not an expert on the lives of the Brontës, not knowing much more than the sisters’ names and the rough geographical location of their home. Still, you do not need to know anything about them to enjoy My Brother’s Keeper, as Powers gives any relevant details through his writing. The main character of the novel is Emily Brontë. Although her brother and father play reasonably significant roles in the plot, the other characters are less developed and are much more minor in comparison.
Set in the Yorkshire moors in the mid-nineteenth century, with characters that most people will have a basic knowledge of, Powers jumps straight into his atmospheric gothic tale. My Brother’s Keeper is well-paced and an exciting read. If you know Powers’ writing style, you should race through this novel. However, for me, it took a few chapters to settle into the flow of the story. Powers held my attention from the outset, with some blood magic occurring at a rocky crag on the moors in the prologue. Still, I was definitely not finding My Brother’s Keeper a rapid read, even though it is only around three hundred pages long. Others have found it the opposite though, so it was more me having to settle into the read than an issue with the writing. The novel moves on from the blood magic and has family curses, monsters buried under church slabs, supernatural beasts, ghosts, and a very good dog called Keeper. If you go into My Brother’s Keeper knowing that and liking Power’s other secret history fantasy novels, you will probably have a great time reading this.
However, if you do not already know that, I think My Brother’s Keeper might be a polarising read; I can see people either loving it or loathing it. Sometimes, the plot can seem a little too weird, unlike the creepy, claustrophobic gothic novel readers might have expected. However, the cover for the US edition from Baen Books does give a little more away about the novel’s content and style than the UK version of the cover. I also think that if the Brontë name (rather than Powers’) has drawn a reader to My Brother’s Keeper, this may not be the novel for them. It is not a historical fiction of their lives, nor a reworking of their writings, or written in their style. But for me (like Marmite), it was a win overall. It may not be the sort of thing I would always reach for, but My Brother’s Keeper was an interesting take on the Brontë family and an original supernatural story. Powers’ writing is detailed and entertaining, particularly in the final chapters and the epilogue.
Thank you very much to Tim Powers and the team at Head of Zeus for sending me a copy of My Brother’s Keeper to provide this review.