Living in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, we’re a stone’s throw over the moors to Haworth and Bronte Country. So you tend to think about the ill-fated lovers Cathy and Heathcliff when driving past the heather on the tops of the moors. Author Michael Stewart has done more than that, he’s created a whole new chapter for Heathcliff in his latest book, Ill Will.
It is a brave man who takes on the Bronte’s and especially the beloved Emily who has her bicentenary anniversary of her birth this year. Fear not for Stewart has done her proud and you can’t help but think this is the type of book she would have written had she been writing in the present day. There have been comments on the language in the book but let’s face it, these are the mean Northern streets of the 1790s not Austen’s Bath and people would have had the mouths of navvies, literally.
Ill Will opens just after Cathy has, rather hastily, said to Nelly it would degrade her to marry Heathcliff and a devastated and incandescent Heathcliff has headed straight onto the moors in the pouring rain, without a jacket. That’s how mad he was.
In the original text, he returns three years later with a ton of money, more jackets than he can shake a stick at and a serious slice of revenge to serve. Ill Will is the story of how he got from one to another and it’s a major page turner.
Stewart creates a living, breathing world for Heathcliff’s adventures as he seeks the truth about his heritage and starts on the road of becoming the vengeful psycho we all know and love. My only criticism and it’s tiny, is that it feels almost too fact heavy to begin with and this is slightly distracting from the story.
The introduction of new character Emily, a wise cracking 10 year old orphan, is brilliant and they form an endearing double act who navigate Yorkshire, Manchester and finally Liverpool, getting into many a scrape until the final showdown to end all showdowns which is gory and gripping in equal measures. I was reading this last bit on the train and I can only imagine my facial expressions.
The whole book is written as a letter to Cathy and it is a clever way of keeping us firmly rooted in the fact this is a companion piece to Wuthering Heights and reminding us who this character was and who he will be. Having said that, you don’t have to be familiar with the text to enjoy the book but if you haven’t read it, I defy you not to pick up a copy after you read Ill Will.
What is good for Bronte aficionados are the Easter eggs that Stewart has woven into the text and bring a smile to your face as you discover them. I’m not giving them away, they’re for you to find out.
I was lucky enough to interview the author recently and there is talk of a TV adaptation in the works, I can’t wait for this as it screams to find its way onto our screens. In the meantime, I would definitely recommend picking up a copy for a good bit of gritty escapism.
To read my interview with the author, please click here