Thursday 25 June 2020

Neo-Victorian Voices: The Vanished Bride, Bella Ellis (2019)

It’s now a little over a month until my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, meets the world, and, between articles, podcasts and planned events, I’m currently living and breathing the Bronte sisters. Still, this did nothing to dissuade me from reading the latest book in my Neo-Victorian Voices series, which introduces us to the Bronte siblings as we’ve never seen them before.

The Vanished Bride, by Rowan Coleman (writing under the suitably Bronte-esque pseudonym Bella Ellis), came out in Fall 2019. It’s an historical mystery starring everyone’s favourite literary family as unlikely sleuths (or, as they call themselves, ‘detectors’).

The chapters alternate between Charlotte, Emily and Anne’s perspectives, as the trio (occasionally with an inebriated Branwell in tow) tries to discover what happened to a young bride whose bedroom has been found empty, but awash with blood.

The mystery is well-paced if straightforward, but the real fun of the novel comes in the sisters’ different personalities (Emily is perhaps best-drawn), and in how Ellis includes references to the sisters’ novels, suggesting that the events of the book might have inspired the siblings’ literary creations. There are governesses and ghosts, a devastating fire, and even a first wife confined to the attic.

The novel is set in 1845, just after Branwell’s dismissal and Anne’s resignation from Thorp Green Hall (major events in Bronte’ Mistress), so it was particularly enjoyable for me to see how Ellis incorporates known events in the Brontes’ lives to make their detecting feel possible in this period. The novel is also clearly marketed as the first in a series, so I appreciated the brief references to Arthur Nicholls, the man who would become Charlotte’s husband, and look forward to seeing how this relationship develops over the course of later books.

All in, this one’s definitely for fans of historical mysteries (if you don’t enjoy detective stories even the Brontes might not be enough of an inducement). Of the Bronte-related books I’ve reviewed recently, Syrie James’s The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte offers realism, and Michael Stewart’s Ill Will grit, but Ellis’s novel is certainly the most playful.

Know of more Bronte-inspired novels? Let me know and I may include them in my Neo-Victorian Voices series. Leave a comment below, contact me via Instagram or Facebook, or tweet @SVictorianist.


If you’re a lover of all things Bronte, be sure to check out my novel, Bronte’s Mistress, which is available for pre-order now. The book tells the story of the scandalous affair that overshadowed Branwell and Anne’s employment at Thorp Green Hall, through the voice of the “profligate woman” accused of tempting the Bronte brother into sin.

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