Friday, July 10, 2015

Book Review: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

Title: A School for Unusual Girls
Series: Stranje House #1
Author: Kathleen Baldwin
Published: May 19, 2015 by Tor Teen
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: It’s 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England’s dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don't fit high society’s constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young ladies. Or so their parents think. In truth, Headmistress Emma Stranje, the original unusual girl, has plans for the young ladies—plans that entangle the girls in the dangerous world of spies, diplomacy, and war. 

After accidentally setting her father’s stables on fire while performing a scientific experiment, Miss Georgiana Fitzwilliam is sent to Stranje House. But Georgie has no intention of being turned into a simpering, pudding-headed, marriageable miss. She plans to escape as soon as possible—until she meets Lord Sebastian Wyatt. Thrust together in a desperate mission to invent a new invisible ink for the English war effort, Georgie and Sebastian must find a way to work together without losing their heads—or their hearts...

When I first heard about A School for Unusual Girls it seemed like something I would really enjoy. Historical fiction, strong female protagonist, boarding school that's more than meets the eye. All things that I love. And it did not disappoint. It was all of that and more. A fantastic piece of historical fiction with complex characters, and a mysterious plot that built to a thrilling conclusion.

During the first half of the book, I was really struck by the historical fiction aspects of the story. I love historical fiction. My favorite kind is ones that include actual events and people but change things around to incorporate fictional characters and events. I love that it gives the books context and makes you wonder what is real and what is fiction. That is exactly what Kathleen Baldwin does here. The book takes place post-Napoleonic wars in Europe wars. It was a period of change which always makes for a really interesting book. After Napoleon's defeat, Europe is in just as much upheaval as each indvidual country tries to reestablish their autonomy or establish it for the first time. But being that this is a world on the cusp of something, the book can speculate on what may have possible happened if things went differently. This book is really an alternate history, which can be hit or miss for me. But usually if it's actually a historical fiction novel it doesn't work for me but in A School for Unusual Girls it did work. Maybe because I'm not intimately familiar with the history so the subtle context established a setting that was both realistic and interesting for me.

And then before I even knew what was happening, something about the book changed and the adventure really kicked. It's hard to say whether the pacing was just really slow, or if it was just right. I was enjoying the historical fiction aspects of the story and then all of sudden it turned into a mystery or thriller. Maybe it just lulled me into a false sense of security before the action kicked in. And when the action did finally start I really couldn't put it down. Much of that action was a high stakes rescue which I was totally hooked on, not only because it was engaging but because it really broke some gender norms and turned the whole idea of a damsel in distress on it's head which I always love. That part of the story also brought a lot of mystery that was directly tied to the historical aspect of the story. And not only did I like the mystery, but the big reveal caught me totally off guard. Even though the pacing may have been slow in the beginning. the plot development was completely engaging with an ending full of mystery and action.

But despite how interesting both aspects of the book were when looking at the plot development on the whole it was a bit basic and muddled. It felt like there was just a little bit too much going on and because of that there really wasn't much of an opportunity to delve deeper into any aspect of the plot. I personally would have liked to see a little bit more of the boarding school aspect of the story. It felt a little bit odd that the main character was shipped off to this school only to be seperated from the rest of the students to work on something that she was doing before coming to the school. It felt more like a means to an end rather than an actual interesting part of the plot development. The school really just seemed like a way for the main character to interact with the secondary characters.

But luckily, all those characters were really fantastic. I instantly fell in love with the main character Georgiana or Georgie. Georgie is a free-spirited young woman who has interest beyond the typically feminine pursuits society expects of her. In particular she has a huge interest in science. I loved seeing her explore that throughout the book. She was also quick-thinking and spunky especially in how she interacted with Sebastian. Sebastian is the mysterious young man that Georgie is working with and he is fantastic. Obviously the synopsis mentions that potential for romance and this may come as a surprise to some people but I loved the romance in this one. It's was a fantastic slowburn despite a bit of insta-attraction. But honestly what made it work so well was how realistic it was. There was that attraction and some great flirty moments but Georgie was totally oblivious to them all. She was so naive to it in an endearing way, so when the romance did finally happen it was so satisfying. I also really loved all the other secondary characters. From the fellow students at the school who are complex and mysterious especially Tess who it seems like might be the MC in the sequel which I would love, to the characters outside of the school including Lord Ravencross and Lady Daneska who I am also completely fascinated by. And then there's Miss Strange and Captain Grey who I feel like I have only begun to learn about. Every character was so complex and realistic which made them so interesting.

Despite a few concerns I thoroughly enjoyed A School for Unusual Girls. The historical setting was engaging and set the scene for a captivating book with tons of mystery and action and characters that were complex and fascinating. I can't wait to see where this series goes.

I give A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin 9 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of historical mysteries with strong female characters. It's got a fascinating setting and lots of great action that will keep you engaged until the very end.

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Have you read A School for Unusual Girls? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

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