Cover Image: The Vanished Bride

The Vanished Bride

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Very clever and different. I was unsure of how I would perceive this book, but I enjoyed it. As a Yorkshire girl I was concerned about how the Bronte family would come across as detectives. It worked I really enjoyed it.
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Yorkshire, 1845. A woman disappears overnight from her home. Her husband is distraught. All that remains of her is copious amounts of blood on the bed. The local police are inept. This is the first mystery in a series of new amateur sleuths, the three Bronte sisters, in ‘The Vanished Bride’ by Bella Ellis.
I loved this book from the beginning. Bronte fans will love it but anyone new to Bronte will find it an engaging introduction to the three clever and inspirational sisters. What a fresh idea to involve Charlotte, Emily and Anne in an occupation that suits their imaginations, attention to detail and energy. Anne says, ‘It is truly terrible that I am a little thrilled to think of us as three invisible lady detectors seeking out the truth? I believe we could be quite the only such creatures in all existence.’ 
Their characters are clearly drawn and their engagements with other characters – brother Branwell, father Patrick, cook Tabby and maid Martha – are all convincing. The case of the vanished bride comes to their attention because the governess to the two small children of the missing woman is none other than Matilda French, a former schoolfriend of Charlotte and Emily at Cowan Bridge school.
As they track down clues and bravely confront strangers to ask questions, the three sisters must learn to manage the wilder leaps of their imagination and use judgement to analyse clues, sifting, comparing, discarding. At first their naivety while charming, is a problem, as they tend to believe everything they hear. But they soon wise up to the disreputable agendas of others and become adept at setting trick questions, analysing body language, and basically not believing everything they are told. Stepping outside their comfort zone at Haworth, they venture into worlds not usually frequented alone by unmarried women. Though obviously a fictional not historical account, it is an interesting picture of the real world limitations they faced.
Owing not a little to the gothic, their detecting involves folklore and supernatural elements, a wonderful journey to the seaside at Scarborough to find a witness, and thrilling night time excursions involving a little breaking and entering. Throughout it all, their clergyman father is ignorant of their ‘detecting’ and the risks they take, and they become adept at soothing his concerns at their odd behaviour. 
Author Ellis [aka novelist Rowan Coleman] has been a Bronte fan since childhood and this is demonstrated in her knowledge of character, setting and historical context. In the Author’s Note, she explains her choice of August 1845 for this first novel. Charlotte has returned home from Brussels to join Emily while Branwell and Anne are home again from employment at Thorp Grange. It is the first time for several months the four are under the same roof. The characters, the settings, are pure Bronte; the detective story is Ellis’s own.
To set the timing of ‘The Vanished Bride’ within the context of the Brontes’ real life, it takes place a year before their first publication – of ‘Poems’ by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell – in 1846. In 1847, Charlotte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, Emily’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Anne’s ‘Agnes Grey’, were published.
Excellent, one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year.
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2.5 stars

When the Brontë sisters - Charlotte, Emily and Anne - learn of a local mystery involving a missing young mother whose bed was found covered in blood, they seek to discover what happened.
Using their creativity and determination, the sisters investigate and search for clues as to whether the missing woman is dead or alive. But their gender and lack of husbands may put them at a disadvantage and make their search all the more difficult and dangerous.
Will the sisters unearth the truth?
Will their quest for justice put their lives in danger?

When I heard that there was a mystery novel being released that featured the Brontë sisters as the protagonists I knew that I had to read it - I'm a fan of the sisters as authors and it sounded like such a fun concept.
I really liked Charlotte, Emily and Anne as characters and I felt that they were portrayed well from what little I know about the sisters. They were interesting and I liked reading their interactions with each other, their brother Branwell, and their father. 
It was quite sad reading the novel and knowing that the sisters and their brother all died young.
The setting of 1845 Yorkshire was one of my favourite aspects of the book. It was quite atmospheric at times.
The plot was mostly good but I did find myself losing interest once or twice. The mystery itself was an intriguing one, but the pacing was a little off for me. However, there were twists that I didn't see coming.
I liked that the author took parts of the Brontës' works and used them in the mystery, as though these would later influence the Brontës' works.
The writing style was easy to follow and I felt that the author managed to make each of the Brontë sisters feel different to each other, reflecting their own writing styles.
I am a little disappointed that I didn't like this more, but it was still a unique historical read.

Overall, this was a mostly enjoyable read.
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This was a fun read and I look forward to seeing how the characters become more as we know them to be, as the series continues.
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Over Christmas, I agreed rather impulsively to participate in A Walk Around the Brontë Table's #ABrontëADay Challenge for the month of May, thinking that I would have lots of time to come up with ideas. As one or two of you may have noticed, 2020 has pretty much laughed in the face of anyone who tried to plan anything and so I am still scrabbling. Also, even looking back over my Brontë backlog reading list, a lot of it looks kind of heavy and that is the last thing I'm looking for at the moment. And then I spotted The Vanished Bride and I breathed a sigh of relief. Crime fiction featuring the Brontë sisters as a trio of amateur sleuths? Yes please and thank you!

The novel opens in 1851 with Charlotte, now the sole surviving sibling, reflecting on the adventures that they all had as she sets out to destroy the evidence. Then we flash back to 1845 and the sisters' first case. A few miles away, a young wife and mother has vanished from her home. The only trace she has left behind is a large amount of blood. Feeling a connection since the family's governess is an old Brontë family friend from back at Cowan Bridge, the sisters decide to take a closer look at the case.

As the novel opens, Anne Brontë notes the new band of 'detectors' now operating in London and indeed the women set out in their investigation with a strong desire to emulate this innovative branch of law enforcement. This was plausible since Victorian Britain was genuinely gripped by the new detective, with the rise of crime fiction occurring at around this time. Yet The Vanished Bride makes for an intriguing contrast to these male-led stories. So much of the Brontë novels centred around female issues, they managed to critique the patriarchy at a time when women had very little opportunity to do so. These women lived their lives in Haworth, a town noted for its high mortality rate. For all Charlotte's protests, they were not ignorant of the world's cruelties. In Ellis' novel, all three express concern that the  disappearance of a female could be all too easily ignored. Is it so grand a leap to imagine that they would have wished to see justice served?

Plot is rather secondary to premise in The Vanished Bride with the focus securely fixed on the lady detectors rather than those who they are attempting to detect. This was something which put me in mind of PD James' Death Comes to Pemberley, since in both cases the famous characters overshadowed those newly introduced. However, while James' novel rendered its borrowed main players as stuffy and boring, The Vanished Bride manages to instead bring them a whole new kick of life. While there is no shortage of biographical fiction around the Brontë family, it so often gets understandably bogged down in the tragedy of their short lives. To see them walk out the Parsonage door and seek adventure made for a very welcome change of pace.

Bella Ellis (or rather, Rowan Coleman, the woman behind the pen name) has clearly done a huge amount of research. As a long-term Brontë fan, I was impressed by how many times even the more 'obscure' pieces of Brontë folklore could crop up. Ellis manages much more than just sitting back and reminiscing about that time Papa brought the toy soldiers home. Another thing that I really enjoyed was that Ellis doesn't waste too much screen time on Branwell. There is something so very tedious about a world which looks at a family which produced three highly talented female writers, nods politely and then says, "But what about the boy?" While Branwell does have a walk-on part, he is never allowed to steal the show. Indeed, he is more of an emblem for the many men of the world who make things more difficult for the women to get by.

The Vanished Bride captures very astutely the common female frustrations within a male-dominated society determined to limit women's choices at every turn. I have read Brontë biographies ad nauseam, even wondering whether any new ones were worthwhile but although The Vanished Bride is light as a feather, it actually got me thinking about the Brontës in a different way. I had a similar response to Kathleen McFlynn's time-travel take on Jane Austen, The Jane Austen Project. It's as if by taking a scenario that is obviously false, these writers somehow access a hidden truth.

Bringing three literary icons to the page is no easy task but I responded to Ellis' interpretations of the three sisters. Her versions of Charlotte and Anne were slightly more one-note (Charlotte bossy and neurotic, Anne goody-goody) but she still made them seem like human women and compassionate heroines. Where The Vanished Bride really hits its stride though is with Emily. Famously and deliberately enigmatic, Miss Emily Brontë is not someone to be easily fictionalised. She left almost nothing behind her. Some biographical fiction paints her as a rebel, others as a mystic and other versions make her borderline mute. Think Kate Bush in a white dress. Ellis' version is far more compelling. Emily just does not care about the social niceties. We see her as a woman completely out of patience with a world that assumes that she is lesser for being female or that she must be in want of a husband, someone who has no truck with people who cannot help themselves and who would prefer to just go her own way. Emily is direct, no-nonsense and every so slightly off-putting; she's a gift for a piece of crime fiction, providing both the muscle and the best one-liners. While The Brontë Mysteries is an absurdist take on the Brontë family, I found its depiction of the family to be fairly credible.

Although it is about as likely that the Brontë sisters solved crime as it is that that photograph is a genuine likeness, somehow Bella Ellis stops just short of making it obviously ludicrous. I have read a few short stories which set up Jane Austen as a private detective and neither of those were as effective. As the mystery of the vanished bride unfolds, it proves to be fantastically Gothic but what I found most thought-provoking was how Ellis directed each of the sisters' responses to it in a different way. Charlotte is attracted by the passion, Emily fascinated and repulsed by the villain's obsessive adulation which veers between love and hate while Anne is horrified that it is so difficult for a woman to escape this situation. There is something very clever in how Ellis manages to draw each sister's creative inspiration back down to the same source.

Perching her story in 1845 was probably a wise move for Ellis as it allows her a solid gap of around three years for the Brontës to have had their detective career before the tragedies begin. I did wonder what might have happened had she pitched things earlier. Could Charlotte and Emily have sorted out some mischief in Brussels? The rumour does persist that at some point or other Charlotte Brontë tried opium. Or could Emily have gone rogue during her time at Law Hill? I really struggle to imagine any kind of detecting that would have involved Ellen Nussey however since that lady was clearly a one-woman gossip shop. On the other hand, I always got the feeling that Mary Taylor knew how to handle herself but given that she was in New Zealand by 1845, it is unlikely that Ellis will be able to get them to team up.

Given that I am already pondering where Ellis will take her heroines next, it is pretty clear that I heartily enjoyed The Vanished Bride. It manages to be both a high-kicking extravaganza but also hugely nostalgic for fans. We get to travel to so many of the old Brontë haunts, from Wycoller to Scarborough and beyond. It made for fantastic lockdown reading. There are moments that are cheesy, the plot is not without holes and the vibe is very much cosy crime but I just had a really nice time. If you loved The Woman in White but always felt like Marian Halcombe could have done far more without Walter, or if you thought that Lady Audley probably had her reasons, then this is the book for you. Or if you're just a Brontë fan looking for a laugh in these troubled times, then this is also the book for you. There are all too few feminist Victorian detective novels and so I will cherish them where they can be found. I am already looking forward to the sequel. The Diabolical Bones here we come!
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As a standalone story, I quite enjoyed this book. It was easy to read, I liked the strong female characters, and the story was well crafted. I think I might have enjoyed it a lot if I were a Bronte fan and knew more about their lives and work. I would recommend it if you are a fan and if you are not, then you will probably enjoy the story as I did.
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The Vanished Bride is the first installment in the Brontë Sisters Mystery Series and the debut novel of author Bella Ellis (a pen name for one of my favorite authors, Rowan Coleman). As you can guess with the title of the series, Ellis takes the famous writer sisters and their brother and turns them into "detectors". The story is set before they became writers and although I personally don't know much of the Brontë lives, I enjoyed getting to know them and with Ellis detailed narrative, I could perfectly picture them. 

The pace of the story is a bit slow but it really transports you back to the nineteenth century, to the moody moors of the Brontës, as you follow them around while they try to discover what happened to the vanished bride of a neighboring state. The mystery was interesting to follow and I loved how the sisters were relentless to find the truth. Against a society that wanted women to be transparent and silent it was great to read about these brave and strong women that had such a fire for more inside them. 

The Vanishing Bride is an original and entertaining story and a great start to this series. I am already looking forward to seeing what the sisters get up to in the future.
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Such an intriguing idea! I love the Bronte sisters, so to meet them in this context is really fun. Charming, mysterious and exciting all in one!
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I'm a massive Bronte fan and to have them as characters in a novel was a dream. Bella Ellis has obviously done her research as they were exactly as I have read about them in many biographies. The relationship between the sisters and Branwell, and Patrick, was lovely and still realistic. 
The mystery element was really good, well thought out with gothic elements. I devoured the book in one day and can't wait for the next instalment! 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this e-copy in exchange for an honest review.
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I attempted this book a few times. Every time I got into it quick enough but soon lost interest. 
It felt very slow to read. The characters did not interest me. 
In the end I started skim reading to just get it finished so I could move on. Which is sad as this book sounded like something I could enjoy.
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I was skeptical about the inclusion of real-life figures in the plot: for me, even the idea leaned a little too far into fanfiction-territory. And, to be honest, the reading experience did little to assuage those fears. The problem with writing about real people, after-all, is to make them seem so and unfortunately, in this book they came across as rather one-note.
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I don’t read much cosy mysteries in general, so this was bit of a change of pace for me. Overall, I found it an entertaining read, although it didn’t exactly suck me in like I would’ve hoped. I’m not not entirely sure what, since the style was good, and easily shows that the author is very enthusiastic about the Brontë sisters and their lives (from what I know of them, their background was spot on).

Some of the attitudes/conversations were a little too ‘modern’ in terms of feminist ideas to fully emulate a 19th-century style, but I didn’t find this too jarring, and I enjoyed seeing how the sisters navigated the mystery while having to make the outside world believe they were simple, meek, “angel of the home” parson’s daughters, so as not to attract unwanted attention (and, in turn, be confined or labelled “undignified”).

I did have my ideas about what had really transpired when it came to the murder. That said, they remained hypotheses until well into the story, since the clues were unveiled gradually enough for this to happen. And some of the details were clearly not what would’ve come to mind first. The story also has a few easter eggs that one may or may not find over the top (the “wife in the attic” motif, for instance); personally, I tend to like cameos in general, and having read the Brontë sisters’ novels, I liked seeing those here.

Possibly what didn’t win me over were the sisters’ personalities. I found it a little difficult to tell who was who (without having to refer to the names at the beginning of each chapter). It was strange, for they all had very defining traits (Charlotte as the romantic one, Emily as the “wild” one, and so on), and yet I found it difficult to really tell at the same time.
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A very engaging read a chance to meet the Bronte sisters one by one a mystery to follow.I was drawn right in to this novel found it a creative storyline so well written will be recommending.#netgalley #hodderstoughton
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The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis is one of the best books I’ve read over the last few months. This historical fiction novel reimagines the Brontë sisters – Charlotte, Emily, and Anne – as amateur sleuths in the period shortly before they wrote the novels for which they would become immortalized.

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Set in Haworth and the surrounding area of Yorkshire in 1845, The Vanished Bride is set during a period where all the Brontë siblings had moved back to live with their father at their famous parsonage after losing their various positions of employment. It is there that they hear of a terrible tragedy at the nearby stately home of Chester Grange where Charlotte’s friend Matilda works as a governess. On arriving to awaken Mrs. Elizabeth Chester, the lady of the house, Matilda discovered the bedchamber empty and the room covered in vast quantities of blood. The sisters immediately suspect Elizabeth’s husband, but with the local constable apparently incompetent and the townsfolk in fear of speaking out against their landlord, no progress is being made in discovering what really happened, so the Brontës take it upon themselves to uncover the truth.

The truth, naturally, is far more convoluted than any of them could guess and puts them into dangerous situations as they travel all over to county from Leeds to Scarborough and Hebden Bridge in an attempt to unravel the truth behind the events at Chester Grange. As young women, they often find themselves struggling to be taken seriously in their detective works but when it comes to encouraging people to talk, their appearance often “turns out to be the perfect disguise.” The sisters do their best to use their enforced social positions to their advantage, however, the story also shows their annoyance at the roles society has tried to force them into and their desire to break free from the rules whenever possible. Of course, by the end, the mystery has been resolved with, if not the most shocking of revelations, an entirely satisfactory one, and the novel ends with the sisters receiving information on a new mystery for them to solve.

On the face of it, this book is a somewhat strange idea. There has never been any evidence that the Brontës engaged in anything even close to amateur detective work or solved crimes of any kind during their lives, so why write a story suggesting they did instead of creating new female characters to play the roles of the main characters? That was one of my initial questions going into The Vanished Bride but having read it, the inclusion of the Brontë sisters feels like a stroke of brilliance. All throughout the story, you can spot events that, had they been real, would likely have inspired the sisters to write their famous works. The influences are subtle. There are no mad wives locked in attics nor lonely ghosts wandering the moors, rather there are shades of these events as if the author is trying to imagine what the sisters could have experienced in their lives to help them create the incredible stories they did. There’s also a tantalizing glimpse of something that may just be supernatural, enough to pose the question without committing to any answers.

One part of The Vanished Bride that really spoke to me was its portrayal of grief. There is a particular sense of loss that comes from losing a parent at a very young age, a sense that you’re permanently in mourning for something you can’t quite remember. Author Bella Ellis captures this feeling perfectly during the early chapters when a group of characters sit together and talk about their lost parents and the memories of them that they carry. This sensation of constant grief casts a macabre shadow over the Brontë sisters, especially as they are witnesses to their father’s work with the poor in their community. They know their futures are likely to involve either never experiencing the love of a long-term relationship, or accepting that if they do marry and start a family, they will very possibly have to bury a child or leave one motherless and this knowledge constantly influences their actions and words.

Historical fiction that reimagines the lives of famous figures has been around for many years now but it does seem to be coming to prominence of late. In the last few years I personally have read fictional books centered around the lives of Edgar Allan Poe and Alexander Hamilton, and I suspect the latter may be partially responsible for this trend thanks to the popularity of the musical Hamilton. There is an ongoing question of whether or not it is appropriate to fictionalize the lives of real people in this way, putting words into their mouths and puppeting them into actions they may have vehemently disagreed with – a question that has been debated for many years in the fanfiction community because, after all, what is historical fiction if not published Real Person Fic? I don’t have the answers to those questions but they were playing on my mind as I read The Vanished Bride. It was also impossible not to wonder about how accurate (or not) the actions and attitudes of the characters were given their historical setting – I suspect the latter.

Despite a few issues, The Vanished Bride ended up being my favorite books of the year so far and I’m already excited to pick up the sequel – The Diabolical Bones – later this year as this book is the first in what will become The Brontë Mysteries series. You don’t need to be a fan of the Brontës or of classic literature to enjoy this, although a passing familiarity at least with their famous novels will help you pick up on the subtle references scattered throughout. This novel will appeal to fans of period dramas, amateur detectives, and fearless heroines and its strong feminist influence is inspirational in showing how women were always determined to change their world even when society dictated that they should stay home and stay quiet.

GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this story! I’m not sure I expected to- I’ve never been particularly inspired by the Brontes: Jane Eyre was good but I never liked Wuthering Heights. Also their life seemed to have been so drab and boring- like purgatory! This mystery was a good one and I really liked reading about the dynamics of the 3 sisters and their brother. I’m looking forward to continuing the series. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.
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The idea of this book is great, but somehow, for me, the execution didn't work. I found the Bronte girls 2 dimensional and the gypsy too stereotypical.
I didn’t manage to finish the book.
There is one good statement however, one which many of these historical genre novels emphasise, that women were considered property and thus the authorities - who were all men, and of which there few enough, were not bothered to investigate fully, if at all. Detectives were just coming in in London at this time and not further afield.
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The mystery elements of this book were really interesting and well done but the characters weren't always engaging enough for me. I do think it was well written and reflected the time period well. I probably will read more in this series when they are released.
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I liked the idea of this book (particularly as I used to live near Haworth and have visited the village and the museum many times) but was intrigued as to how the author would pull it off. I think she did well, she's picked a period when all the four children are living at the Parsonage, before any of them had their writing pusblished and invented an imaginary family, the Chester family, where a friend of theirs is a governess. When the lady of the household goes missing the Bronte family investigate. There were times when I felt the novel was too slow and the style of  writing wasn't always to my taste - but that's nitpicking.
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A very sweet blend of real life Bronte mixed with sleuthing and mystery. I really enjoyed getting to know the different sisters as they solved the case of a missing woman.
Thanks Netgalley and Bella Ellis for the ARC copy of this great book.
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The Vanished Bride places the female experience firmly at the centre of both mystery and investigation, as the Brontë sisters are brought to fictional life as intrepid lady-sleuths.

A local woman has mysteriously vanished under sinister circumstances and the sisters manage to persuade themselves that it is their bounden duty to investigate the disappearance and whether it was voluntary, enforced, or murder most foul. Along the way they find clues, uncover secrets and genteelly interrogate potential suspects and witnesses, determined to stand up for the missing woman in her absence.

The author, Bella Ellis, has clearly thoroughly researched the factual details of the Brontë’s real lives and cleverly embroidered them with fictional quirks and opinions to bring them to sharp and witty life. Particularly enjoyable here are the nods to their various works of fiction, as bitter orphan boys and masters appearing on horseback from the fog occur to them.

At the heart of the story is the perception of the sisters as capable, adventurous, perceptive and bold; hampered only by society’s view of their limitations. In contrast, it is clear that they feel that their father and brother need protection in their fragile masculinity and must be shielded from having their world view disturbed unnecessarily. Hence competence and intelligence must be masked under a demure and ladylike exterior and feminine pursuits. Only in their private lives, their writing and amongst other women can Charlotte, Emily and Anne be free to expose their true personalities and talents fully.

Classic mystery fans will enjoy this clever and entertaining new envisioning of three of literature’s most powerful female figures exploring and dominating an entirely new field.

‘Emily, I fear that I have recklessly launched us into something with which we are not equipped to deal. I imagined that the uncovering of the truth would be somehow plain, and clearly visible to an honest eye, but rather it is like the complicated plot of a particularly implausible novel. And this is not a gothic fairy tale, but involves real people, real lives, real blood spilt. What if we get it wrong? Who are we to meddle in such reallife horrors? Lives are at stake, perhaps even our own!’

– Bella Ellis, The Vanished Bride

Review by Steph Warren of Bookshine and Readbows blog
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