Review: A School for Unusual Girls: A Stranje House Novel (Stranje House #1) by Kathleen Baldwin
Source: Digital galley courtesy of Macmillan-Tor/Forge via Netgalley. Thank you!
Expected publication: May 19 2015 by Tor Teen
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 the girls 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…
When a novel gets a blurb from Meg Cabot and hooks me in with its promise of historical fiction and spies, I hope (and wish) for the best…but alas, A School for Unusual Girls left me wanting.
A School for Unusual Girls has kernels of so much goodness with respect to the story. So much potential that crumbles under the curse of instant-dislike-masked-as-love, rushed and rather nebulous plot points, and under-developed secondary characters. It feels like Baldwin had all these intriguing ideas: mashing a Regency romance with the political intrigue of 19th century Britain, and a scientifically-oriented young woman with elements of the supernatural. So where did it go wrong?
As I noted briefly above, the novel has a lot going on all at once. While taking far too many chapters for Georgie to uncover what Stranje House really is (and what Emma Stranje and her fellow roommates are there for), our protagonist is- almost- simultaneously tasked with perfecting an invisible ink formula for covert English war efforts; introduced to the duplicitous and contemptible Lady Daneska- former pupil of Stranje House; and falls in love with a dashing Lord. Whew. The last part of the novel involves what I feel is a rather hastily paced rescue mission in France that adds yet another layer to an already crowded and somewhat unfocused novel.
Maybe if there had been greater attention paid to drawing out Stranje House’s history and its currents students with their promise of supernatural abilities, or if readers were given more back story to Emma Stranje, the novel might have read differently. As it was, the focus on Georgie’s quick infatuation with Sebastian and that hurried rescue mission distracted from other perhaps more intriguing parts of the story.
Overall, while there are a few interesting elements to A School for Unusual Girls, the execution of the story doesn’t deliver. Comparisons to Gail Carriger’s steampunk YA novels are likely, but, in my opinion, Baldwin’s story crafting and world-building is not quite on the same level. It is not likely that I will continue on with this series, but I do think there is potential for developing more cohesive and interesting storylines in future Stranje House books.
I received this book as a digital galley from Tor Teen via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.