The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson

I am a big fan of young adult books. I always make sure to cruise through the YA section at my town library. I also make requests through the library for even more books. They are delivered right to my town library- it’s just like Amazon, except it’s free! Three cheers for our libraries!

I found The Explosionist at my town library. I was drawn to the book because of the title and the picture on the cover. I find the most wonderful books in the most superficial ways. This young adult novel was written by Jenny Davidson.

The Explosionist takes place in Scotland in 1937, but this is a very different Scotland. The backstory is established fairly quickly: in this world, The British were defeated at Waterloo in 1815. This was the beginning of the end of the British Empire, and England was absorbed into part of the European conglomerate. Scotland remained independent, with Hadrian’s Wall as a dividing line. Scotland is part of a modern-day Hanseatic League, and society is both familiar and completely foreign.

Sophie is a 15-year-old girl who lives in Edinburgh. She goes to boarding school during the week, and spends weekends at her Aunt Tabitha’s house. Sophie’s world is changed forever when a bomb goes off near the school. The attacks are not particularly uncommon, but later, Sophie attends a séance at her aunt’s house. When the medium turns up dead, Sophie can’t help but wonder if the events are connected. She and her friend Mikael search for answers.

The Explosionist has so much to offer. First of all, there is the alternate history element to the story. It’s actually quite fascinating; Davidson will name drop, but the names don’t match the profession. Sigmund Freud runs a pirate radio station, and Oscar Wilde is a renowned obstetrician. The question of Scotland’s independence has been a debate for centuries, and it’s fascinating to see this become a political reality.

The next aspect of the story that I found interesting was the reliance on the supernatural. Spiritualism is very common, and as the story progresses, Sophie dabbles in the art herself during her search for answers. I found the ways in which she and her friends attempt to make contact with the great beyond to be quite thought provoking.

Finally, there is an element of dystopia in this alternate history. The Scots have managed to harness energy, and use it in ways that were unavailable in our 1937. But beneath this technologically sophisticated exterior is a sinister underbelly. Because of course there is! Every time a story’s society has a handle on technology, there is always something shady going on! I say this good-naturedly; the dystopian element adds a lot to the story, and is actually quite integral to the plot.

I would absolutely recommend The Explosionist. The multiple elements that I have mentioned combine to create a deep story, which ended on a cliffhanger. When I saw that the second book in the series was bargain priced at Amazon, I couldn’t help buying it! I’m looking forward to finding out what happens to Sophie next! If you’d like to find out more about this book, you can do so here: The Explosionist (Sophie Hunter, Book 1)

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