Publisher: Tor Teen
Published: May 2015
Genre: young adult, historical fiction, romance
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…
Georgiana knew her parents were upset and humiliated to have an odd daughter, one who’d burn down the stables or attempt flying off the top of the manor. So when they left her at Stranje House after witnessing several of the finishing school girls in medieval torture devices, she’s stunned and devastated. But things are not as they seem at Stranje House, and her scientific curiosities to create an invisible ink to end Napoleon once and for all are encouraged. With the help of her friends and Lord Sebastian Wyatt, Georgie is propelled in an adventure like no other, a mission that could save several thousand men, and would surely shock her parents beyond belief.
I knew going into this book that I would enjoy the spies-and-espionage aspect of the story. Toss in a finishing school that’s not as it seems and I was sure this would be a favorite. While it’s not on my favorites list, it’s definitely a book I’m glad I read. It was like an action-packed version of Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, only without the magic. Science drives the mission, and ultimately alters the Napoleonic history.
What knocked my rating down from an automatic 5 to 3 stars was the pacing, more specifically the pacing of the romance and the reveal of the mysterious Stranje House. Georgie and Sebastian are thrust together to create this invisible ink, and within six days they’re practically pawing each other and drowning in kisses. I’m not saying that can’t happen, but at this point they’d only been in the other’s presence maybe three times, and each interaction is filled with directionless bickering-written-as-banter (one of my least favorite romance tropes). Secondly, I knew going into the book that Stranje House was not a finishing school but training grounds for young female spies. While it wasn’t as straightforward as Lee’s A Spy in the House, I almost wished it would be. About halfway through the book a character finally spills the beans to Georgie (who is, apparently, incredibly intelligent, so why did they have to spell it out to her? All the clues were there) and explains what the torture devices were for and what their classes are meant to instill.
While I do appear to be groaning about the faults, I can honestly say that I did enjoy this read. It was a blend of Bray and Lee’s books, and I was absolutely fascinated by the chemistry sessions in creating the ink. As a non-science person, scenes like those are always intriguing (my concoctions always exploded in class). It was quick, fun, filled with swoony moments (if that’s your style!), and I’m interested to see what the next book brings. They really do alter Napoleonic history, so it’ll be neat to see what Baldwin does next.
Thank you, NetGalley, for providing this book from Tor Teen for (a belated) review!