The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson

It’s one of the finalists for the Cybils Fantasy and Science Fiction Award, and I can see why. Nevertheless, I thought it was . . . odd. But maybe it’s supposed to be odd. Maybe I just have a low tolerance for odd, or at least for this particular kind of odd. I didn’t dislike the book; I just wasn’t sure I liked feeling slightly off-balance for 448 pages. And then I still had lots of unanswered questions; it’s obvious from the ending that a sequel or two is meant to follow.

So first note for potential readers: if you want all your loose ends tied together and all your questions answered, wait for the sequel and read them together. From Ms. Davidson’s blog:

My big goal for January: finish writing the sequel to The Explosionist, The Snow Queen!

I’m not quite sure how the publisher’s schedule works, but I would think that if all goes as planned, the book would be published in winter or early spring of 2010 – I’ll post more details here as things develop.

Next note: the book is based on an alternative history. In the world of this story, Napoleon defeated Wellington at Waterloo. The countries of Northern Europe, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland and others formed the Hanseatic League and eventually fought a Great War against the European Federation. England fell to the Europeans and became part of the Federation. Science and technology, art and literature all took different turns, although some of the names—Alfred Nobel, Alexander Bell, WIlliam James, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Faraday, and others—remained the same. This alternate history aspect of the novel was part of what served to keep me slightly disoriented as I read.

Sophie, the main character of the novel, lives in a society that is passionately dependent on science and technology and yet also permeated by a strong belief in spiritualism and communication with the dead in the spirit world. Sophie herself is interested in science, especially chemistry, but she’s also something of an unwilling spirit medium. This joining of science and superstition seemed incongruous and disturbing, but also somewhat compelling in its peculiarity.

If any of this unbalanced oddity sounds like the kind of strange that matches yours, you may want to give The Explosionist a try. I’m still not sure what I think about it. I’ll probably read The Snow Queen and get some more answers before I render a final verdict.

Other Explosionist readers:

Jocelyn at Teen Book Review: “Like I said, this is a difficult book to explain, but not difficult to finish–I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! There’s suspense and intrigue and mystery and adventure and even a bit of romance.”

Charlotte’s Library: “I am an inveterate reader of British school girl stories, and in many ways The Explosionist is heir to one particular sub-genre of these books–the plucky school girl who foils the Enemy Plot.”

Bookshipper: “The main character is smart, intelligent and likeable. As I was reading, the word gothic came to mind – the setting is described in a dark, broody and somewhat mysterious way – adding to the charm of this book.”

4 thoughts on “The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson

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  3. I think the off-putting setting is a big part of what makes me love alternate histories, and why I really enjoyed The Explosionist. I like it when the book expects me not to just take the world at face value, but to put some real thought into why things work the way they do. But I can definitely see how some people would find that distracting from the story!

  4. Pingback: Books Read in January, 2009 at Semicolon

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