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The Explosionist

The Explosionist

5.0 3
by Jenny Davidson

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A series of mysteries.

An explosion of truths.

The Explosionist: Someone sets off a bomb outside fifteen-year-old Sophie's boarding school, but no one can figure out who.

The Medium: Soothsayers and séance leaders are regular guests at her great-aunt's house in Scotland, but only one delivers a terrifying prophecy,


A series of mysteries.

An explosion of truths.

The Explosionist: Someone sets off a bomb outside fifteen-year-old Sophie's boarding school, but no one can figure out who.

The Medium: Soothsayers and séance leaders are regular guests at her great-aunt's house in Scotland, but only one delivers a terrifying prophecy, directed at Sophie herself.

The Murder: When the medium is found dead, Sophie and her friend Mikael know they must get to the bottom of these three mysteries in order to save themselves—even as the fate of all Europe hangs in the balance.

Set in a time of subversive politics, homegrown terrorism, and rapidly changing alliances, The Explosionist is an extraordinarily accomplished debut novel for teens that delivers a glimpse of the world as it might have been—had one moment in history been altered.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Gail C. Krause
Sophie, a fifteen-year-old orphan, lives with her great Aunt Tabitha Hunter. Ms. Hunter is a strong women's activist and has connections in the government. The problem is that she has co-founded an agency that seems to promote the well-being of the smartest girls at the academy Sophie attends, but when Sophie nears the age where she will be sent to the agency, her great aunt does everything she can to prevent that from happening. Sophie cannot imagine why. As she tries to find out, she becomes entangled in world full of espionage, mystery and terrorism. It begins when her aunt insists she attend a seance. The spirits reach out to her, and Sophie finds she has the powers of a medium. It is these very spirits that help her solve the mystery of the explosionist. The tense nature of the situation is countered by Sophie's love interest, someone for whom she never expected to have feelings. Bits of history are entwined in this fictional story. Reviewer: Gail C. Krause
VOYA - Susan Allen
Ever wonder what the world would be like if Napoleon had won at Waterloo? One possibility is that Europe would have united except for the Hanseatic League of Scotland/England (one country), Denmark, Sweden, and Russia. In 1938, the League could have been facing a war against the rest of Europe. Scotland might have had fuel-cell technology and a program to adapt young women's brains so they could unemotionally serve important citizens, and Nobel possibly could have become a major munitions producer. Such are the circumstances in which Sophie, a fifteen-year-old boarding school student, finds herself. Sophie becomes embroiled in a convoluted series of events that include bombings, murder, and workings of the "institute for young women." Spiritualism is a major factor in the story and Sophie's discovery that she is a medium adds to the suspense. Working with her friend Mikael, Sophie seeks to understand how what appear to be unrelated events and happenings are actually parts of an evolving future. Readers can expect a sequel based on the story's open ending. The characters come through as very human and quite believable. The book is well written and well crafted. The weaving and subtle twisting of historical characters and events is done with great skill. Students liking mysteries and alternative histories will quickly read this one cover to cover. Reviewer: Susan Allen
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up

It's 1938, and in the world that 15-year-old Sophie inhabits, England fell to Napoleon at Waterloo, scientists work together with spiritualists, and hydrogen-powered cars move people around Scotland's streets. An unsettling session with a medium sets Sophie on edge, but her Great-Aunt Tabitha's vehement opposition to IRYLNSY, a program for women that her aunt founded, confuses the teen more than the cryptic message about a pending journey that she received. The medium's sudden death prompts Sophie and her friend Mikael to investigate, and they are soon plunged into a turbulent political battleground, one that threatens the future of Scotland and the rest of the world. Without stretching credulity too far, readers should be able to accept the odd blend of modern and primitive technology in the text; it seems odd that fuel-cell technology exists, but dynamite remains the most powerful explosive known. Sophie and Great-aunt Tabitha's antagonism toward one another regarding the morality of IRYLNSY lacks the depth necessary to draw readers into the debate; Davidson herself seems almost convinced that turning promising young women into emotional Dumpsters for men is entirely appropriate. With an uncertain resolution that all but demands a sequel, the book will appeal to fans of alternative historical fiction, who will be waiting for the next installment. Blending physics, politics, and possibilities, Davidson's novel also holds some appeal to fringe historical and mystical readers.-Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library

Kirkus Reviews
Adult novelist and scholarly author Davidson crafts a YA alternate-history/murder-mystery romp-and mostly pulls it off. In a world in which Napoleon won Waterloo, it's 1939 and the Federated States of Europe and the New Hanseatic League have concluded one war but may be poised for another. Sixteen-year-old Sophie finds herself in the midst of political intrigue after a medium delivers a cryptic message and then turns up dead. The medium's death is just the start: IRYLNS, founded by Sophie's great-aunt and guardian, transforms girls into perfect secretaries via a sinister process; Sophie's chemistry teacher may be masterminding suicide bombers; and spirits seem set on communication. The world-building sometimes falters and thinking too hard about the changes may confuse readers (how did Freud become a radio personality, and why is he fixated on Daedalus?), but despite the flaws, who can resist a spunky heroine, political machinations and a disembodied Alfred Nobel? Readers willing to dive in will be eager for the sequel. (author's note) (Fantasy/alternate history. 13 & up)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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687 KB
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Explosionist, The MOB

Chapter One

As a small child, Sophie used to tell herself the story of her own life, pictures and captions running inside her head just like a real book. Even at fifteen, she found herself now and again transfixed by the sense of her surroundings flattening out into a picture-book illustration: the fair-haired chemistry teacher, beakers and test tubes in racks along the countertops, rows of pupils at their desks, and near the back Sophie's own slight figure, a cone of sunlight conveniently picking out her head and shoulders (gray eyes, snub nose, sallow skin, straight black hair bobbed short with a fringe to keep it tidy) so that there was no mistaking the main character.

The warmth of the sun on her face brought Sophie three-dimensional again. She blinked and breathed deeply, the pungent smell of fresh-cut grass cutting through the fug of waterproofed raincoats and formaldehyde.

"Sophie, don't you know the answer?" whispered Leah Sinclair, Sophie's lab partner.

The answer to what?

Sophie stole a quick look at the blackboard, which held the formula C3H5(ONO2)3. Beside it stood Mr. Petersen looking even more harried and chalky than usual, so that Sophie had to fight a ridiculous impulse to get up and brush the dust off his tweed jacket. His mixture of handsomeness and haplessness brought out in her a painful tender feeling which she had entirely failed to keep secret from the other girls. Sophie hated being teased, really hated it, but she still couldn't help gazing at Mr. Petersen with an expression of sheeplike devotion. It wasn't surprising the othersfound it funny.

"Can none of you name this chemical?" said the teacher.

Sophie was about to put up her hand when she heard Leah whisper to the girl on the other side of her. Sophie turned and glared. If Leah had just said something about Sophie being in love with Mr. Petersen, it was grossly unfair; Sophie would never have embarrassed Leah by mentioning the well-known fact of her being in love with the games mistress.

Sophie slouched down in her seat. Through her lashes she could see Mr. Petersen looking surprised, puzzled, even a little hurt. Something in her usually strained to answer him as quickly, as fully, as perfectly as possible, but today she kept her eyes fixed on her hands and fiddled with her mechanical pencil.

Mr. Petersen gave a defeated-sounding sigh and crossed his arms.

"I'll give you three clues," he said. "It has a sharp, sweet, aromatic taste."

The other girls' faces were so blank, it made Sophie squirm (oh, why couldn't she just be like everyone else and not know the answers?). It was horrible having everyone think of her as an evil Goody Two-shoes when she really wasn't like that at all. She bit her lower lip so hard she tasted blood.

"It is sometimes used to treat a heart disease called angina."

A long pause.

"It freezes at thirteen degrees centigrade."

This one was such a dud of a clue that Sophie couldn't stop the answer from bursting out.

"Nitroglycerin," she said about ten times more loudly than she meant to.

"Nitroglycerin," Mr. Petersen repeated. He sounded pleased (Sophie absolutely hated herself for caring what he thought of her). "The active ingredient in dynamite, one of the most powerful explosives known to man."

The other girls perked up. Explosives were good fun. Sophie had more complicated feelings about dynamite, which was only to be expected: She had been a very small child when both her parents died in an accident at the Russian dynamite factory her father directed.

"Nitroglycerin's a powerful blessing to mankind," Mr. Petersen went on. "Doctors use it to treat heart disease, most often in the form of a patch stuck to the skin, although one patient stuck his butter knife into a toaster and received a modest electric shock that actually caused his patch to explode."

Sophie saw a few girls cough so that they would have an excuse to hide their smiles behind their hands. Was the mind of the fifteen-year-old girl a closed book to Mr. Petersen?

"Even a tiny trace of nitroglycerin placed upon the tongue will give you a pulsating, violent headache," the teacher went on, his voice soft, even, and rather sleep-inducing. "A dog given nitroglycerin will foam at the mouth and then vomit; within seven or eight minutes it will pass out and almost cease breathing."

Sophie could hear Priscilla Banks and Jean Roberts almost choking with laughter behind her. She shrank down lower in her seat.

Mr. Petersen pretended not to notice the laughter, but Sophie thought he looked hurt.

"Roughly seventy-five years ago, in the eighteen-sixties," he continued, "half a dozen terrible factory explosions led the Federated European States to ban the production of nitroglycerin altogether. Soon afterward, a massive explosion near the Wells Fargo building in San Francisco led to that city's nitroglycerin being seized and destroyed, and before long to a prohibition on its manufacture in both the Northern Union of States and the Southern Confederacy. We must be grateful to Alfred Nobel (the patron saint, so to speak, of the Hanseatic states) for stabilizing nitroglycerin by mixing it with a porous earth called kieselguhr. In doing so, he invented the explosive that would change the world: dynamite."

He began rooting around in his pockets. "I hadn't meant to show you this, but look. . . ."

They craned forward to see the thing in the palm of his hand: an orange cardboard cartridge that looked like something from a sweetshop window.

"I have enough dynamite here in my hand," said Mr. Petersen, "to blow up the entire school."

The shuffling and whispering stopped. Sophie sucked in her breath.

"Dynamite," he repeated, enjoying the girls' rare attentiveness. "The word comes from the Greek for 'power.' Dynamite Number One was Nobel's name for his first nitroglycerin compound, manufactured by Nobel Explosives, Limited. Engineers use it to mine metals and blast railway tunnels through tons of rock, but dynamite also allows Scotland and the other members of the New Hanseatic League to retain independence. By providing the Federated European States with the best explosives in the world, we secure for ourselves the power of self-determination."

Explosionist, The MOB. Copyright © by Jenny Davidson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Jenny Davidson is a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University. She has written an adult novel, several books of nonfiction, and The Explosionist, a novel for teens. She lives in New York City.

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Explosionist 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Julia_Rose7 More than 1 year ago
So, I read The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson over spring break and it was amazing! It was a book that I just couldn't put down! It sounded intriguing so I picked it up. Then about a week later I started reading it. I really admire Sophie how she was so courageous to do what she did. I would never be able to what she did. I love how the author mixes all these conflicts and other stuff. It's so cool! I mean there are mediums, people with bombs, and a bunch of other stuff. I also think it's kinda weird how the government works. I mean in a building they have suicide inventions where you go in them and then you die. They also have a school where girls go and they train them to be perfect secretaries. This book is set in a time of political controversy. All these conflicts only help make the book more interesting. I would recommend this book to almost anybody. -Rose
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
In a world where Europe is split into two competing factions on the brink of war, the 1930s are dominated by the Enlightenment principles of science and reason. The basis of this parallel universe is that Napoleon defeated Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Jenny Davidson skillfully incorporates elements of historical research, science-fiction, and the paranormal to create a world utterly unrecognizable to readers in the twenty-first century. With her clever plot and vivid descriptions, Davidson prevents readers from becoming confused and overwhelmed by the drastic differences of her imaginary world.

Fifteen-year-old Sophie Hunter is living in Scotland, a member of the New Hanseatic League, and attending an all-girls preparatory school with hopes of a university education. However, her future hangs in jeopardy due to the threat of war between the New Hanseatic League and Europe. Terrorist attacks by the Brother of the Northern Liberties are all too common, and the mood throughout the country is tense. In the event of war, all of Scotland's young women would be called upon to serve the country in various national agencies, dashing Sophie's dreams of becoming a scientist.

Sophie's already turbulent life becomes even more confusing after she attends one of her great-aunt Tabitha's seances. The medium delivers a shocking anonymous message to Sophie, insinuating that she will encounter great danger. When the medium is murdered shortly thereafter, Sophie knows that the prophecy is not to be taken lightly. She vows to uncover the mysteries behind the tangle of Scotland's political web, to save herself and her friends from a disastrous fate.

As fate would have it, war might soon be upon them. Sophie plans on joining IRLYNS, serving her country as is her duty if the unthinkable should occur. Short for the Institute for the Recruitment of Young Ladies for National Security and pronounced "irons," IRLYNS aims to train intelligent young women to be personal assistants to Scotland's most powerful government officials. Great-aunt Tabitha, Sophie's guardian since the death of her parents many years ago, is actually one of the founders of IRLYNS, and Sophie expects her to be proud of her noble intentions. However, great-aunt Tabitha strongly discourages her niece from joining IRLYNS, and Sophie's curiosity is piqued. Could the secrets behind IRLYNS be in any way connected to the precarious state of the country?

Although she lives in a bizarre world, readers will surely be able to relate to Sophie's idealism and youthful exuberance. A loyal friend with strong morals, readers will find Sophie very likable. Her crush on her chemistry teacher, Mr. Peterson, is reminiscent of Hermione's infatuation with Gilderoy Lockhart. Thankfully, Mr. Peterson is infinitely more worthy of admiration. Then there is Sophie's amusing relationship with Mikael, her best guy friend from Sweden. Slowly, Sophie discovers what readers will see all along, that Sophie harbors more than feelings of friendship for Mikael....

Read the full review at www.teensreadtoo.com
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson is a great, creative book. From the very first page it grabs my attention because of it unusual introduction to Sophie¿s life. The whole story had a different view because it¿s based in Scotland. Because of this it makes it interesting because it is completely different then anything I¿ve read before.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very well written and intriguing book! The story has so many interesting topics such as mystery, science, suspense, and politics. The beginning may start off a little confusing, but the ending will leave you wanting more. I would not only recommend this book to teens, but adults will find it well worth reading too!