Bedlam: The Further Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte

Written by Laura Joh Rowland
Review by Mary F. Burns

In this Victorian mystery-thriller historical, demure but spirited heroine Charlotte Brontë once again races breathlessly through England, France and Ireland accompanied by the darkly heroic, devastatingly sexy John Slade, Her Majesty’s Royal Spy.

The pace is indeed breathless, with rapid changes in fortune around every corner (just when you thought they were safe…) and evil villains barely a step behind the intrepid duo. Love, romance and relationship issues surface as Charlotte and Slade struggle with society’s taboos and the demands of their high-flown and sensual love for each other, now tested through episodes of torture, captivity in London’s infamous insane asylum, fistfights, conflagrations and sea sickness—all in the service of the Queen and greater humanity, as the defiant pair track down a psychotic Russian agent and a truly mad scientist out to destroy the world to prove a point.

Rowland provides interesting historical tidbits of the science of the times, including bizarre techniques to cure the insane (ugh), preposterous medical theories, and a run through the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London, 1851, which featured exotic, foreign animals and people, as well as the latest inventions. Occasionally Rowland gets a touch gory while describing murders, and I admit I grew a little tired of Charlotte’s constant lamenting about her desires warring with her sense of propriety, but she was, after all, a Victorian lady. The continuous on-the-run suspense with either the villains or the law on her heels was a bit tedious as well, especially as it was a no-brainer that “all would end well” (more or less). However, there are a few very un-Victorian sex scenes (ooh-la-la), and overall it’s a good and fun if somewhat hectic read.