The ExplosionistIn a world where Wellington, not Napoleon, met his Waterloo at, well, Waterloo, it’s 1938 and the world is on the brink of war: a united Europe, complete with a conquered England, is being held barely in check by a Hanseatic League (Russia, the Scandinavian countries, and our setting, Scotland). Radios regularly pick up messages from the spirit world, and important members of government attend seances on a regular basis.

Fifteen-year-old Sophie is studying for exams, thinking about her crush on her chem teacher, trying to ignore suicide bombings, and worrying about her and her friends’ futures: university, the Army Ladies’ Auxiliary – which does allow women to serve in combat – or IRYLNS, the Institute for the Recruitment of Young Ladies for National Security, which supplies the important men of with secretaries and assistants of extraordinary caliber.

When a medium at a seance has a message for Sophie, her life quickly spirals out of control as she finds herself investigating a murder, something suspicious about IRYLNS, and possibly the roots of the terrorism plaguing Edinburgh. Unfortunately, the narrative also spins out of control; though the world is well-developed and interesting, the plot seems rather listless, jumping from one point to another. There aren’t major holes, it just feels discontinuous and unrooted. Sophie is a disappointment; she makes some efforts to influence her future and the world around her, but is frustratingly placid when her efforts fail and when choice is entirely taken away from her.

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The Explosionist ~ Jenny Davidson

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