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The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte [Hardcover]

Laura Joh Rowland
2.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

13 Mar 2008
Upon learning that she has been falsely accused of plagiarism, the mild-mannered Charlotte Bronte sets off for London to clear her name. But when she unintentionally witnesses a murder, Charlotte finds herself embroiled in a dangerous chain of events that forces her to confront demons from her past. With the clandestine aid of the other Bronte sisters, Emily and Anne, and of the suspiciously well-informed but irresistibly attractive brother of the victim, Charlotte works to unravel a deadly web of intrigue that threatens not only her safety but the very fabric of the British Empire.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 378 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Press (13 Mar 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590200330
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590200339
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 15.6 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,198,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
WITH A TALE SPINNER'S SLEIGHT OF HAND I ADVANCE THE calendar—the date is now Friday, 7 July 1848. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

2.2 out of 5 stars
2.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
In 1848, the sisters Charlotte and Anne Bronte travel from Haworth to London to resolve an issue with Charlotte's publisher George Smith. Charlotte has been accused of a breach of contract, and the issue can be best addressed in person.
In London, Charlotte witnesses the murder of a young woman named Isabel White whom she and Anne met during their trip to London. As no-one seems to be interested in finding Isabel's murderer, Charlotte is determined to discover why Isabel was murdered and to bring the offender to justice.

And thus begins a story which becomes more and more incredible with each page. It was difficult for me to imagine any of the Brontė sisters in the roles Ms Rowland has written for them, but this didn't stop me from reading to the end just to find out how the mystery was resolved. After all, the events were becoming more and more fantastical and I just had to know how it would end.

I did not enjoy this novel. In part this is because my view of the Brontės has developed over 40 years and I cannot imagine them in the roles described in this novel. Does that matter? Not really but the story itself didn't work for me. Can I recommend it to others? No, not unless you are prepared to read a strange mixture of very unlikely events peppered with some biographical accuracies and some historical improbabilities.

I am less attached to Charlotte Brontė than to her sisters but I am not at all comfortable with this faintly ridiculous portrayal of her.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Waste of time 16 Mar 2012
By Booknut
Format:Hardcover
This has to be one of the worst books I have ever read, which is disappointing as I have enjoyed her Sano Ichiro books. Once again an American writer trying to write historical English fiction gets it badly wrong. The plot becomes more and more preposterous, the dialogue is unbelievable, and the characters are stereotypical cardboard cutouts. Did she not do any factual research? If so, she would have found that the railway to Cornwall didn't exist until several years after this story. Her perception of Queen Victoria's household arrangements doesn't seem to tally with upper class life, more middle class. I get the feeling this is a case where the book was only published because she was already a successful author. I won't be wasting my money on finding out how bad the next book is.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Worst book ever? 19 April 2012
By Jodiel
Format:Paperback
A contender. Melodramatic, unrealistic, cliche, painfully written, gets more unbelievable with every twist of the plot, highly doubtful in its description of the sisters' behaviour, and not one character is particularly likeable or believable on any level. Spare yourself
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valiant Victorian 18 Jan 2009
By BeatleBangs1964 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This is a masterfully crafted historical fiction set in Victorian England in 1848. Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855) and her sisters Anne (1919-1848), Emily (1820-1849) and brother Branwell (1818-1848) are featured in this story. Readers who are not familiar with the works of the illustrious Bronte family (sort of the English counterpart to the Alcotts of New England) are provided with a short list of their works.

As much as I enjoyed the Sano Ichiro series, I was really reeled in by this masterpiece. Charlotte Bronte's adventures start the summer of 1848 when she receives a letter from an attorney demanding to know if the pen names Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell are the works of the same person and if so, do the Bells even exist? The attorney accuses the authors of breaking a literary contract. Charlotte and Anne take a trip to London, whereupon they meet a young woman named Isabel White on the train. She spins out a harrowing, yet disjointed account of having to escape "her master." Charlotte later encounters her in London and witnesses her murder by stabbing.

Enter John Slade, a detective. He and Charlotte meet; their sleuthing takes them to the small mining mill town of Skipton where the young woman was from; their travels take them to Belgium and Scotland when Charlotte secures a post as governess to Queen Victoria's three older children.

More mysteries ensue and are interlocked with the deft grace of a brilliant author. Just who IS John Slade? And who is Isabel's master? Who were Isabel's master's contacts in Scotland? And did Isabel's master have anything to do with the death of Joseph Lock, a local gun merchant in England? And does the Charity School, an institutional wasteland of poverty and extreme classist abuse have any part in the spate of mysteries?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.1 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charlotte Brontė, Detective 27 Mar 2008
By Tom S. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Here's a marvelous surprise from one of our best mystery writers. I don't usually read "real detective" stories, the ones where some famous actual person, usually a writer (Edgar Allan Poe, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, etc.), makes like Sherlock Holmes. The "mystery" is usually pretty dumb, and it's always buried under a long, badly-written avalanche of extraneous information about the writer culled from graduate English courses. Even worse, the writing style is usually a strained imitation of the celebrity in question. But I bought THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF CHARLOTTE BRONTĖ for two reasons--my lifelong love of the Brontės and my great respect for Laura Joh Rowland.

This novel is exceptional in every way. The Brontė family is depicted in a straightforward, realistic manner, and Charlotte's first-person "voice" is sensible and authentic. But the real pleasure here is the story itself. It's fast-paced, fascinating, and constantly surprising, with all the right elements of coincidence, melodrama, and romantic passion we'd expect from the author of JANE EYRE. We're not assaulted with a laundry list of tedious facts and figures about Brontė--she seems like a living, breathing woman. And the plot is solid--the events in the novel incorporate actual happenings in the world in 1848. I've long admired Rowland's wonderful mysteries set in feudal Japan, and this stand-alone is another real treat for Rowland fans (and Brontė fans). Highly recommended.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a delightfully enthralling read 23 Mar 2008
By tregatt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Laura Joh Rowland takes a break from her Sano Ichiro series to pen this delightfully intriguing Victorian-era mystery novel featuring the Bronte sisters, and Charlotte Bronte in particular. "The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte" reads like a stand alone novel, but truth to tell, I rather hope that there will be future installments featuring Charlotte in the not too distant future.

When Charlotte Bronte receives a letter from her publishers accusing her of breaking her contract with them, she quickly realises that she must go to London to clear things up. Nervous but excited, she sets off for London with her sister Anne reluctantly in tow. While on their way, the sisters make acquaintance of a beautiful but enigmatic governess, Isabel White. Isabel seems to be in distress and moved by her plight, Charlotte impulsively invites her to seek the Bronte sisters out at the inn they'll be staying at. The last thing Charlotte expected was that she and Anne would witness Isabel's brutal murder, or that the apparent non-interest of the police would inspire in her a need to discover why Isabel was murdered and bring her murderer to justice. Aided by sisters Anne and Emily, and by Isabel's disturbingly attractive brother, Gilbert White, Charlotte begins her investigation, and finds herself totally unprepared for the web of revenge and intrigue she finds herself in the middle of, or the threat that this investigations poses to her family...

The first thing that impressed me about "The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte" was the narrative voice -- to me it seemed authentic and I felt as if the author really had captured Charlotte Bronte's "voice." Obviously, Rowland spent a great many happy hours rereading all of Charlotte's novels and letters. Because this novel really hinged on Charlotte -- her experiences, feelings, setbacks, etc -- getting the narrative voice right was really vital. Rowland, brought Charlotte Bronte, to life, for me, and this allowed me to fully enter into everything our stalwart heroine was experiencing and made the intrigues Charlotte found herself in quite probable and believeable. The pacing was swift and even, and the plot a compelling and intriguing one, that was full of interesting plot twists and turns. All in all, this is one Victorian-era mystery novel not to be missed.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valiant Victorian 31 Oct 2008
By BeatleBangs1964 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a masterfully crafted historical fiction set in Victorian England in 1848. Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855) and her sisters Anne (1919-1848), Emily (1820-1849) and brother Branwell (1818-1848) are featured in this story. Readers who are not familiar with the works of the illustrious Bronte family (sort of the English counterpart to the Alcotts of New England) are provided with a short list of their works.

As much as I enjoyed the Sano Ichiro series, I was really reeled in by this masterpiece. Charlotte Bronte's adventures start the summer of 1848 when she receives a letter from an attorney demanding to know if the pen names Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell are the works of the same person and if so, do the Bells even exist? The attorney accuses the authors of breaking a literary contract. Charlotte and Anne take a trip to London, whereupon they meet a young woman named Isabel White on the train. She spins out a harrowing, yet disjointed account of having to escape "her master." Charlotte later encounters her in London and witnesses her murder by stabbing.

Enter John Slade, a detective. He and Charlotte meet; their sleuthing takes them to the small mining mill town of Skipton where the young woman was from; their travels take them to Belgium and Scotland when Charlotte secures a post as governess to Queen Victoria's three older children.

More mysteries ensue and are interlocked with the deft grace of a brilliant author. Just who IS John Slade? And who is Isabel's master? Who were Isabel's master's contacts in Scotland? And did Isabel's master have anything to do with the death of Joseph Lock, a local gun merchant in England? And does the Charity School, an institutional wasteland of poverty and extreme classist abuse have any part in the spate of mysteries? (A note: The Charity School sounds like it was loosely based upon the school the two older Bronte sisters, Maria and Elizabeth attended. They died of TB and endured malnutrition and starvation. Their school experiences appear to be reflected in Charlotte's book, "Jane Eyre.")

This story is not a cliche romance, but it combines the elements of several literary genres with brilliance and apolomb. There is a romantic angle, but it never becomes trite, tawdry or cliched. Charlotte, who is the protagonist of the story is caught up into a maelestrom of intrigue and danger.

Laura Joh Rowland has not only captured the feel and flavor of Victorian speech and values of the time frame, she has also portrayed England during that period. Her characters are rich and developed; the history intense and vivid. The story opens with the Opium Wars between China and England and it is this knowledge of history that keeps the story moving along. The Sino-English Opium Wars are part of the story and every historical reference segues into a full story. It was common knowledge among people of the Brontes' immediate community that Branwell, their only brother was an alcoholic and opium addict. He was also a gifted author and artist.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Preposterous by the end, despite the promising start. 29 Mar 2009
By Rebecca Huston - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There has been a trend lately in fiction to try and cast real-life authors of the past into the parts of crime solving sleuths. And to be honest, most of the time it doesn't quite work right. This time, the fictionalized author is Charlotte Bronte, one of three sisters who wrote Gothic novels in the nineteenth century. Of the three, it would be Charlotte's novel, Jane Eyre that was the most successful.

The story opens with Charlotte and her sisters, Anne and Emily, receiving a letter from their publisher, accusing them of selling a novel to a rival publisher in a breach of contract. The year is 1848, and while the discontent that is sweeping Europe and England is threatening to topple governments, for the Brontes in the faraway village of Haworth, life is quiet for the most part. While their brother Branwell is addicted to laudanum (a tincture of opium) and puts the family through dreadful scenes, the three sisters and their father, the local clergyman, manage to survive.

But now, Charlotte has to uproot herself to go to London to confront her publisher, to prove that indeed, she is who she says she is. With her will go her younger sister Anne, and the pair are going to take the opportunity to see some of the great city. On the train, they meet a beautiful young woman, Isabel White, who is nervous and distressed over something -- and trouble quickly begins when Charlotte sees her stabbed on the street.

After that, things quickly escalate. Menacing strangers appear, Mr. Slade, and Reverend White, both of whom Charlotte is very much attracted to. In her hunt to find out why Isabel was murdered, Charlotte finds herself going from a wretched boarding school to Cornwall and eventually to the highest reaches of power to solve the riddles. Along the way, there are passionate scenes on the moors, full of storms and longing kisses, drug addiction, the force of unhappy memories and all sorts of elements of Gothic mystery...

And this is where the story starts to fall apart. I wasn't certain if the author, Rowland, was trying to make fun of the Bronte novels, or if she was paying homage to them, or what. Charlotte, as with most portrayals by modern authors of historical figures, is the main character here, speaking in first person voice, with various interjections of third person omniscient voice for the scenes that she can't be there, and even second person in the form of journals and letters, all tend to have rather modern attitudes. To me, that'll break the spell of a novel, as honestly, Victorian women didn't travel alone if they could help it -- only the most poor and unfortunate did so, Emily Bronte is shown as an angry agoraphobic, and Anne is there mostly as window-dressing to show just how clever Charlotte really is.

Summing up, this was an awful novel. While it started off with a great deal of promise and I was actually interested for the first two-thirds -- a feat that I don't find often -- the final third of the story was so ludicrous and over-the-top that I just could not keep suspending belief in view of the fantastical events. While the events of the Opium war in China are certainly real, the route that the villain took to avenge his loss is just too cartoonish

If the author had actually bothered to read about the various real-life participants in the story, and used them as they were, it would have made for a far more interesting novel. Instead, she just takes them and shoves her own words into the cardboard characters, and has them doing things that aren't just incorrect, but also laughable. It doesn't work.

And having the Duke of Kent alive at the time? Umm, the only person by the title was Queen Victoria's father, and he died in 1820. Such is the inaccuracy in parts of this story. Sorry but it doesn't work for me. While in an author's afterword, Ms. Rowland tries to explain her reasoning, I found it to be awkward at best. A reader's guide for discussion groups is included as well.

Sadly, there's a sequel to this one as well: Bedlam: The Further Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte. It's one that I am not going to bother with at all.

Only two stars. Definitely not recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars don't buy it 3 Oct 2010
By kasl - Published on Amazon.com
If you are a fan of Charlotte Bronte and admire her writing, don't bother to read this book. It is pedestrian. It starts out okay--you are willing enough to suspend your disbelief (and there is good local color and historical detail)--but then the plot becomes truly ludicrous, and the climax and denouement of the novel are so impossible to swallow that you feel you have wasted your time.
If you like improbable mystery action adventure stories, and don't care a fig about the Brontes' real/possible lives, then go ahead and read it, and good luck to you!
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