The Brontë sisters’ first poetry collection has just been published, potentially marking an end to their careers as amateur detectors, when Anne receives a letter from her former pupil Lydia Robinson.
Lydia has eloped with a young actor, Harry Roxby, and following her disinheritance, the couple been living in poverty in London. Harry has become embroiled with a criminal gang and is in terrible danger after allegedly losing something very valuable that he was meant to deliver to their leader. The desperate and heavily pregnant Lydia has a week to return what her husband supposedly stole, or he will be killed. She knows there are few people who she can turn to in this time of need, but the sisters agree to help Lydia, beginning a race against time to save Harry’s life.
In doing so, our intrepid sisters come face to face with a terrifying adversary whom even the toughest of the slum-dwellers are afraid of… The Red Monarch.
I’m really enjoying this series which imagines the Brontë sisters as detectors helping to solve mysteries and right some wrongs where they see injustice around them. The Red Monarch is the third instalment in the series and follows on from The Vanished Bride and The Diabolical Bones, and while each one works as a standalone, you’d be missing out on some of the background and build-up of the characters (as much as the Brontës need building up!) and so I do recommend reading the series from the beginning and in order to get the most out of it.
The Red Monarch sees the sisters taken out of their comfort zone when Lydia Roxby, née Robinson, writes to Anne for help. They head to London – unfamiliar territory to them all – and find themselves in a race against time to prevent the deaths of Lydia and her husband, Harry. It’s a complex mystery as the Brontë siblings come up against some shadowy underground figures in pursuit of a missing jewel that Harry was supposed to procure and has now been accused of stealing. The novel takes a dark turn as they come to understand exactly what Harry – and now themselves – are involved in. I like that this case is particularly challenging in that they initially have very little information to go on. Lydia knows nothing, and no one knows what the missing jewel looks like or where it’s hidden. I do think that the plot occasionally relies upon some slightly too convenient developments, and yet I found myself caught up in the events as the sisters race against the clock to save Lydia, Harry, and indeed themselves.
As with the previous two novels, Emily remains my firm favourite of the three sisters – she stands out for me because of her sense of adventure and her absolute fearlessness. That said, all three sisters contribute to each mystery – they all have their strengths and their individual skill sets complement each other nicely. While they clearly love each other dearly, I do enjoy the hints of rivalry between them which evolves into bickering at times – it makes them seem human, relatable, and utterly normal and I like that Bella Ellis hasn’t simply put them on a pedestal in using them as characters but has presented them as mere mortals. I also like that they allow their brother, Branwell, to tag along. He likes to think of himself a detector and while he has his uses, he’s never allowed to steal the limelight and he adds a touch of comedy to the narrative more often than not.
The Red Monarch is another intriguing mystery for our detectors, and one that is yet again quite different to the earlier novels in the series. I like the way in which the social commentary draws parallels with the present day, and particularly the corruption of the so-called elite and the way that the rules seem to be different for those at the top. As with the earlier novels in the series, there are some wonderful Easter eggs for fans dotted throughout the novel (Thornfield, anyone?) and I really like the way in which the events can be taken as influence for the novels that these three sisters go on to write. Recommended.
The Red Monarch is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available now in eBook and audio formats with the hardback to be published on 18 November. Huge thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this title ahead of publication via Netgalley.
Disclaimer – I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. This has in no way influenced my review.