By Kathleen Baldwin
TOR Books, 2015
A Review by
Colleen R. Cahill
There are some interesting literary style mixes out there today, which have led to new genres such as steampunk. One as yet without a name is the combination of the Regency era and fantastic elements, as in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories. A new addition to this style is an unusual school of manners for recalcitrant girls, fittingly called A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin and published by TOR Books. Here is a blend of Regency romance, alternate history and a bit of the fantastic focusing on five exceptional girls.
Georgiana Fitzwilliam has a talent for mathematics and science, but in 1814 England this labels her a bluestocking and unmarriageable. Her parents give up on her after Georgie burns down the stables as well as a neighbor’s orchard and send her off to the a reform school with a terrifying reputation, Stranje House. Georgie cannot help but be horrified by Miss Stranje’s methods, which seem to involve whips, racks and metal spiked coffins. But seems is the operative word, as little of Stranje House is revealed by its surface. The other four students are hesitant to share much with Georgie, although it is quickly clear that they also have some unfeminine talents, such as Seraphina’s ability to read people like Sherlock Holmes or Tess’s knife throwing skill and almost magical rapport with animals. Lady Jane was sent to the school when she made too much money and Maya, who has an English father and East Indian mother, has some unusual power in her voice. Miss Stranje has peculiarities herself, especially as she is keeping company with a Captain Grey and the handsome Lord Wyatt. Georgie accidently overhears these gentlemen discussing the threat of a sinister group called the Order of the Iron Crown. While frightened by all this strangeness, Georgie is also puzzled and intrigued and she soon discovers the true nature of the school and why she is a very fitting student.
Welcome to a world of romance, international intrigue and some unique young women. The author, who is an award winning Regency Romance writer, really knows her period and makes it clear that Society and family to not think well of these young ladies, who are damned with the epitaph “exceptional”. She also shows great talent in creating believable and enjoyable characters, from insecure Georgie to driven Tess and the gentle Maya. The book has a bit of a steampunk aura, but Regency fans will not feel it is out of place, although as this is an alternate history, so there are some changes in historic events. Certainly those who enjoyed Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermeyer’s Sorcery & Cecelia will delight in finding another fantastic historical novel with a fun plot and endearing characters. And while this is being published as a work for teens, it is also a good read for any who enjoy historical fantasies.
This is the first in at least five books, and the next book in the Stranje House series will focus on Tess. So if you enjoy historical fantasy, regency romance or just a really fascinating book, A School for Unusual Girls is a worth checking out.