Review: The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

The Vanished Bride

Rowan Coleman’s – under the alias of Bella Ellis – first book in the Brontë mysteries series is a deliciously Gothic, gripping romp with Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë as your guides. It’s a delight.

What’s it all about?

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Yorkshire, 1845

A young woman has gone missing from her home, Chester Grange, leaving no trace, save a large pool of blood in her bedroom and a slew of dark rumours about her marriage. A few miles away across the moors, the daughters of a humble parson, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are horrified, yet intrigued.

Desperate to find out more, the sisters visit Chester Grange, where they notice several unsettling details about the crime scene: not least the absence of an investigation. Together, the young women realise that their resourcefulness, energy and boundless imaginations could help solve the mystery – and that if they don’t attempt to find out what happened to Elizabeth Chester, no one else will.

The path to the truth is not an easy one, especially in a society which believes a woman’s place to be in the home, not wandering the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril…

What did I think?

I adored this book. It’s just wonderful.

Coleman has written a mystery packed with twists, clues and unreliable characters that romps through to a satisfying conclusion. It’s Gothic-inspired tone is articulated through dark, creepy mansions decked with haunting portraits of porcelain-skinned women. It’s the perfect book to read on a cold winter’s night.

The relationship between the Brontë siblings is one of the most delightful things about this book. Charlotte, Emily and Anne tease and support each other as only sisters can, while Branwell’s drunken inadequacy is the perfect comic foil to his sisters’ intellectual superiority.

If you’re a fan of the sisters’ writing, you’ll be thrilled with the way Coleman has woven elements of their work into The Vanished Bride. Threads of this story – wild moorlands, gypsies, violent proprietors of stately homes who lock their wives in the attic – are clearly posited as inspiration for the Brontës’ most famous novels. It’s like a literary treasure hunt to gather all of those narrative breadcrumbs while reading. Coleman also cleverly attributes traits from the novels to the sisters’ fictionalised characters, with Emily in particular embodying the passionate wildness seen so infamously in Wuthering Heights. 

The Vanished Bride has something bigger to say about the importance of the Brontë sisters as staples of the literary canon and feminist pioneers. Their father continuously encourages the girls to support their brother’s potential as the sole son, and therefore future, of the family, and the social pressures that attempt to force the sisters into the moulds of wife and mother are prevalent throughout. The strength of conviction in pursuing their writing passions and shunning social norms is hugely inspiring to a modern reader. Make sure you read Coleman’s note at the end of the novel where she explains why Charlotte, Emily and Anne are so important to her as a writer and a women.

This book is the first in a series of Brontë mysteries and the next edition is set up at the end of The Vanished Bride. I will certainly be first in the queue to read the next instalment.

The Vanished Bride is out now from Hodder and Soughton. Thank you to NetGalley and Hodder and Soughton for my review copy.

Image credit: Waterstones

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