Genre: YA, Historical, Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Teen on May 19, 2015
Welcome to Stranje House.
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 them 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…
Miss Georgiana Fitzwilliam is an unusual girl: she has wild red hair, cares little for manners and polite society, and worst of all, she’s a scientist. When her latest chemical experiment goes horribly awry, her parents ship Georgie off to Stranje House, a reform school that turns ill-mannered girls into biddable ladies. A school that’s rumoured to employ the rack, and worse…
But Stranje House quickly proves to be more than rumour would suggest, with its secret passageways, odd inhabitants, and even a connection to the Crown’s efforts against Napoleon. Despite her attempts to ferret out the truth of the place, Georgie soon discovers that Stranje House and its mysterious proprietress won’t give up their secrets without a fight. The other girls at the school are just as puzzling, each with their own closely guarded secrets. Just who is Miss Emma Stranje, and why has she collected all these unusual girls under her roof?
I had a ton of fun unravelling the mysteries of Stranje House along with Georgie, and although I guessed a few things quite early on I was completely surprised by others. The low-key fantastical elements were especially fun, and I’m eager to see how they develop throughout the series. Kathleen Baldwin combines classic elements of Regency era historical fiction with action-adventure tropes to create a unique, alt-history story that worked very well for me. Admittedly the pacing was a little uneven, especially in the first half, but once Georgie uncovered the real purpose of Stranje House things progressed at breakneck speed.
Miss Stranje has a very specific use for Georgie’s smarts, and the acceptance of her bluestocking ways by both the headmistress and her peers has a profound impact on her. Like all the residents of the school, Georgie’s life before coming to Stranje House was one of derision and isolation. But with these other unusual girls, Georgie finds camaraderie and even friendship. Girl power boarding school, y’all! There’s Lady Jane, whose gift with agriculture and finances are practically witchy; Sera, a girl who sees straight to the truth of those around her; Maya, a mixed-race girl of British and Indian heritage whose hypnotic voice can make you do anything; and Tess, a wild beauty with an affinity for animals and a tendency to dream about the future. Each girl is more fascinating than the last, and I’m dying to know the story behind their gifts; admittedly, when compared to the other girls, Georgie seemed a bit mundane.
The major failing of A SCHOOL FOR UNUSUAL GIRLS is its primary romance plot line, which I frankly found ridiculous. Georgie develops feelings for a certain roguish Crown operative, a young man she’s had a handful of conversations with. It’s only a few days before they’re declaring their love for one another, which in turn had me rolling my eyes. Come on, y’all! Thankfully Tess’ romance, which is teased quite well here, seems like it’ll be much more believable. I look forward to seeing how it – and the greater series plot arc – plays out in the sequel. Something tells me that book will be much more my speed!