Review: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin (Stranje House #1)

Genre: YA, Historical, Fantasy

Publisher: Tor Teen on May 19, 2015

Source: Purchased

Welcome to Stranje House.

It’s 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles.

  

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!

Do you like alt-history stories? Have you read A SCHOOL FOR UNUSUAL GIRLS? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Karen

    I love romance in my books but if it’s not going to be developed well it’s better to leave it out and let the other elements shine.

    For What It’s Worth

    • I couldn’t agree more, Karen! This is one case where I definitely could’ve done without the romance.

  • Oh, boo. It all sounded good until you get to the romance. Too bad!

    • It was definitely a bummer! The romance plot for the sequel looks waaaaay better though, so I’m excited to read that one.

  • Hmmm this sounds cool! I’m usually not super into alt history, but I’m all about boarding school stories. Sucks to hear the romance part is kinda bleh though. :p

    • Boarding school stories are the best! Who didn’t dream of having wicked fun adventures at boarding school when they were a kid, right? Yeah, the romance was the weakest aspect of this story.

  • I wonder if I have seen it at the library, hmm

  • Greg Hill

    I love the whole Stranje House idea, and enjoyed the secret passageways and the hidden sea cave. That was one of my favorite parts. 🙂 And it was fun too about the girls and their various abilities. I do agree about the romance though- it happened VERY fast.

    I think you’ll like Tess’ story.

    • Me too! The spooky house and its layers is awesome, and I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about it. And about Miss Stranje! I want to know more about their abilities too…does Georgie have one? If so, is it related to fire somehow?! LOL.

      Yay! Thanks for recommending this series Greg, I had a lot of fun with this one despite the romance. I’m eager to pick up Tess’ book soon!

      • Greg Hill

        I don’t want to be spoilery, but I… don’t think Georgie does? I think her ability is just her smarts and aptitude. At least two of the girls though do have abilities that are either paranormal or border very closely on it… which I love. I love that element in stories like that.

        • I don’t mind a mild spoiler now and then. 😉 Okay that’s what I was thinking too! The subtle paranormal vibes are so fun — I’m intrigued to see how they’ll be developed as the series continues.

  • I haven’t read this book, but I do love alt-history. This sounds like such a fun mystery.m Thanks for sharig your thoughts on this.

    • It is a really fun mystery, and I loved that it sort of had an espionage vibe to it. Definitely recommend giving this one a try since you love alt history! 🙂

  • Girl Power Boarding school win indeed! At least there was that goodness to counteract the badly done romance.

    • Right? Those three words will get me to read and enjoy the book every time, even if other elements aren’t nearly as well done (sigh, underdeveloped romance).

  • I remember wanting to read this one but I ended up forgetting about it … story of my life! This sounds interesting as a whole, and I’m a sucker for alt-history books too. But all the secrets and revelations are totally my jam. But oh no! The romance! I’m already cringing just reading about it in your post. At least there’s another better romance though. I hope the next book is stronger for you!

    • I know that feel all too well! Thankfully I bought a copy of this one, which always motivates me to actually you know, pick it up and read it. LOL. The secrets, espionage stuff, and alt-history angle were definitely the best parts of this story. The romance was seriously disappointing, but I’m already shipping the heroine of book 2 and her obvious love interest so I’ve got hope!

  • I do like the sound of this one and @disqus_PfrZkKh2Af:disqus made it sound like one I really wanted to heck out. The romance aspect sounds a little offputting but I think I’m keeping this one on the TBR because overall I’d like to check it out!

    • Greg always has such good recommendations! Overall I really enjoyed this, and I think I’ll like the series more as it goes on, since the world will be fleshed out more and the characters further developed. Based on where I think the sequel is going, it looks like the romance in book 2 will be much stronger too!

  • Lynn Williams

    I do like alt history but not this one and it’s not really appealing to me – especially with a ridiculous romance.
    Lynn 😀

    • Alt-history is one of my faves, and you know how much I love a good historical fantasy…which is why the romance here was such a bummer. I’m hoping book two will turn it around!

  • Sometimes just a bit of a fantasy element can work really well. And yay for girl power boarding school! The instalove does sound aggravating, but I’m glad the rest of the book worked well!

    • I agree, that little taste is sometimes all you need. Bookish boarding school settings are my drug, so add in girl power and I’m over the moon. The romance was disappointing but I have faith that Baldwin can do better in the sequel!

  • I’ve not heard of this and it sounds pretty damn interesting. It sucks the romance isn’t brilliant but the school and the mystery and basically the story itself sounds pretty good (well… mostly). This has been added to my read it if you see it list.

  • Alternative History can explore soo much, but I detest bad romance which is why I usually try to avoid the whole genre in general! Awesome Review!!
    Tori @ In Tori Lex

  • I have really been wanting to read this one since I first heard of it and I think I will pick up come hell or high water. However, why oh why is instalove still a thing – I mean sometimes, very very rarely it can work but a lot of time I wonder if authors feel like they have to include romance in their book (esp. YA) and they don’t really know how to write romance or just don’t want to spend a lot of time on it.

    Anyhoo, thanks for preparing me.