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.

The Explosionist ~ Jenny Davidson