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on 17 November 2009
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 Brontë 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 Brontës 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 Brontë 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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on 16 March 2012
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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on 19 April 2012
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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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.

Branwell's influence, like his sisters has cropped up over the years. The 1967 movie "The Graduate," which features a character named Mrs. Robinson who seduces a young Dustin Hoffman eerily parallels the Mrs. Robinson who was involved in an affair with Branwell Bronte. Branwell had accepted a post as a tutor to a rich English family and his employer's wife Mrs. Robinson sent him expensive gifts and carried on a well documented affair with the young tutor. He was dismissed from his post within months.

The works by his more famous sisters continue to have a strong toehold in the literary world and have been translated into movies.

All in all, this is the work of a literary and historical genius. The cultural overlapping of China and England was very effective and made an excellent story even better.
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