Reviewed by Amber Gibson for TeensReadToo.com
In a world where Europe is split into two competing factions on the brink of war, the 1930s are dominated by the Enlightenment principles of science and reason. The basis of this parallel universe is that Napoleon defeated Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Jenny Davidson skillfully incorporates elements of historical research, science-fiction, and the paranormal to create a world utterly unrecognizable to readers in the twenty-first century. With her clever plot and vivid descriptions, Davidson prevents readers from becoming confused and overwhelmed by the drastic differences of her imaginary world.
Fifteen-year-old Sophie Hunter is living in Scotland, a member of the New Hanseatic League, and attending an all-girls preparatory school with hopes of a university education. However, her future hangs in jeopardy due to the threat of war between the New Hanseatic League and Europe. Terrorist attacks by the Brother of the Northern Liberties are all too common, and the mood throughout the country is tense. In the event of war, all of Scotland's young women would be called upon to serve the country in various national agencies, dashing Sophie's dreams of becoming a scientist.
Sophie's already turbulent life becomes even more confusing after she attends one of her great-aunt Tabitha's seances. The medium delivers a shocking anonymous message to Sophie, insinuating that she will encounter great danger. When the medium is murdered shortly thereafter, Sophie knows that the prophecy is not to be taken lightly. She vows to uncover the mysteries behind the tangle of Scotland's political web, to save herself and her friends from a disastrous fate.
As fate would have it, war might soon be upon them. Sophie plans on joining IRLYNS, serving her country as is her duty if the unthinkable should occur. Short for the Institute for the Recruitment of Young Ladies for National Security and pronounced "irons," IRLYNS aims to train intelligent young women to be personal assistants to Scotland's most powerful government officials. Great-aunt Tabitha, Sophie's guardian since the death of her parents many years ago, is actually one of the founders of IRLYNS, and Sophie expects her to be proud of her noble intentions. However, great-aunt Tabitha strongly discourages her niece from joining IRLYNS, and Sophie's curiosity is piqued. Could the secrets behind IRLYNS be in any way connected to the precarious state of the country?
Although she lives in a bizarre world, readers will surely be able to relate to Sophie's idealism and youthful exuberance. A loyal friend with strong morals, readers will find Sophie very likable. Her crush on her chemistry teacher, Mr. Peterson, is reminiscent of Hermione's infatuation with Gilderoy Lockhart. Thankfully, Mr. Peterson is infinitely more worthy of admiration. Then there is Sophie's amusing relationship with Mikael, her best guy friend from Sweden. Slowly, Sophie discovers what readers will see all along, that Sophie harbors more than feelings of friendship for Mikael.
Davidson skillfully tempers suspense and danger with laughter and good times, creating a magical world that defies genre stereotypes. Deeper than a typical adventure story, THE EXPLOSIONIST challenges readers with questions of ethics and the rightful boundaries of the government. Insightful readers will explore their own political beliefs, and even draw parallels from Sophie's world to current events of today. Davidson's abrupt ending will surely leave readers hoping for a sequel!