Friday, August 22, 2008

The Explosionist

By Jenny Davidson. Found via Justine Larbalestier.

This alternate history starts off unexceptionally, but a little over 100 pages in becomes engaging and completely horrifying. The year is 1938 and Sophie Hunter is a 15-year-old student in a Scotland preparing for war. The twist (highlight it if you want to know what makes this an alternate history) is that this Scotland is part of the Hanseatic League, whose control over munition production is the only thing guaranteeing their freedom from the united Europe Napoleon's victory at Waterloo created.

This book is a disturbing juxtaposition of the normal (Sophie's friendships with her classmates and others) and the extraordinary (secret pscyhological experiments, hypnotism, ghosts and mediums, eugenics). Sophie's placid acceptance of some of these horrors only makes it worse.

I'm ambivalent about recommending this. On one hand, it's effective and well-written: it's amazing and thought-provoking how different the world Sophie lives in is. On the other hand, I don't believe the spiritual aspects (seances, mediums, automatic writing, astral projection, hypnotism) are good, although Sophie, though initially reluctant, seems to embrace them. This book seems to be one where I greatly enjoyed the writing (and the suspense) and detested some of the content.

The author is apparently planning a sequel, titled The Snow Queen, and possibly a third book as well.

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