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The Explosionist (The Explosionist #1)

3.45  ·  Rating Details ·  632 Ratings  ·  149 Reviews
The Explosionist (formerly known as Dynamite No. 1) is the story of a 15-year-old girl growing up in an alternate version of 1930s Edinburgh. There, the legacy of Napoleon's victory a century earlier at Waterloo is a standoff between a totalitarian Federation of European States and a group of independent northern countries called the New Hanseatic League. This world is ...more
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published July 1st 2008 by HarperTeen
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Community Reviews

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Jennifer Wardrip
Reviewed by Amber Gibson for

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 centur
Sophie lives in an alternate Scotland around 1935, in a world where Napoleon won at Waterloo, and Scotland and the Scandinavian countries have established a new Hanseatic League to resist being forcibly joined to the rest of Europe. Terrorist bombings are increasing, and the Scottish minister of public safety is calling for war. Spiritualism is very real, and consultations with the dead through mediums are common.

In these turbulent times, Sophie wants nothing more than to go to university and st
Nov 28, 2008 Miriam rated it liked it
This was an interesting and original counter-historical novel set in the 1930s in a world where Napoleon successfully established a pan-European empire. I liked the protagonist and found her and her alternate Scotland fairly believable. I would have given it four stars but for two problems I had with the book: 1) some of the plot elements and counter-factual history are never adequately explained (eg, so Napoleon won? Why does this make dynamite so important?) and 2) the ending, aka total LACK ...more
La Coccinelle
Aug 05, 2016 La Coccinelle rated it did not like it
Shelves: young-adult
I'm not quite sure how to go about reviewing this book. It was one of the worst books I've ever read, with one of the most awful heroines I've ever had the displeasure of encountering. I'm completely baffled by the positive reviews on, and I have no idea how or why it was picked up by a major publisher (Harper Collins).

Basically, The Explosionist takes place in an alternate timeline in Scotland in 1938. The Battle of Waterloo had the opposite outcome, England was absorbed into mainlan
May 29, 2011 Chris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sffantasy, historical, ya
Aaaaaaah this was awesome. It does some things that are technically Not Allowed in alternate history (such as having real-world historical figures who were born decades after the point of divergence), but I find that easy to forgive, because one of the main points of alternate history is to comment on Actualfax History, and any truly rigorous hard AH would a) be pretty much impossible to create, given that all reference materials refer to Actualfax History and b) end up so different as to be ...more
Jul 28, 2011 Sarah rated it did not like it
Shelves: ya, novel, historical, fantasy
Blech. What a terribly dull book. The murky setting is obviously an alternate history but it takes the author forever to spell that out, leaving the reader annoyed and confused since the cover makes it look like a straight-up historical. The protagonist Sophie is the most unlikeable and uninteresting Mary Sue I've ever seen outside of fanfic. It was hard to care about her pain since she never seemed to really defend herself against her friends, teachers, and crazy aunt.

The mystery has too many
Miss Clark
Apr 28, 2009 Miss Clark rated it did not like it
Shelves: the-bog
Another tale mired in the morass of books found to be intolerable. It started off well enough, with the intriguing notion of an alternate Europe forever changed by Napoleon's (and not Wellington's) victory at Waterloo, but it swiftly went downhill with a convoluted plot, a heroine more annoying than relatable with her tedious crush on her teacher and her friend, Mikael, was of precious little use. And the IRYLYNS was just creepy and not really explained and did I mention CREEPY? The Aunt was a ...more
Jan 02, 2009 Brenda rated it did not like it
Shelves: young-adult, 2008
I had a hard time getting in to this book. I probably should have put it down, but the story was intriguing. If I had known nothing would be resolved by the end setting it up for a sequel, I would probably had stopped reading.
Julia (Shakespeare and Such)
May 08, 2016 Julia (Shakespeare and Such) rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people looking for a unique historical fiction, people who like their books light on romance

I am truly appalled by the mixed reviews on this book because I really enjoyed it. I had never seen nor heard of The Explosionist, but I saw it at my public library, liked the cover, thought the blurb sounded interesting, and picked it up completely on a whim. Never did I expect to be so enraptured by it! Where to begin... firstly, I was very intrigued by the setting. I love historical fiction but I don't recall reading many alternate historical settings (i.e. in this novel, Napoleon won the
Jun 27, 2009 Genevieve rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, ya-childrens, sff
I really wanted to like this; and in some ways I did. It's set in a very interesting alternate history, and the details about this alternate world's politics, technology, and philosophy appeal enormously to my geeky side. Not to mention that it also contains elements of mystery and boarding-school story. Ultimately, though, the book's problems made more of an impression on me than its merits.

Some of those problems are structural. The writing is a bit on the clunky side, particularly when it came
Jul 18, 2009 Khy rated it it was amazing
I knew The Explosionist would be good after reading the first chapter that was all about dynamite and explosions. Stupid reason, I know, but what can I say? Dynamite is exciting.

But the dynamite wasn't the only good thing about the book. Sophie, the main character, dealt with the many, many, events in a good way. I've read some books where the main character doesn't want help solving his/her problems or doesn't want to do any work at all or stand up for themselves so he/she just goes along with
Nov 27, 2008 Karen rated it really liked it
I have only fifty pages to go in The Explosionist and I don't see how Jenny Davidson is going to finish the story in so few pages. I'm really liking this and am hoping it doesn't end with a cliffhanger, forcing me to wait for a sequel in order to satisfy my curiousity.

In The Explosionist Davidson presents an altered world, one in which Napolean won at Waterloo. As expected, the world is quite different. Our main character, Sophie, lives in Scotland, a country that belongs to the New Hanseati
Dec 18, 2014 Shelley rated it really liked it
Shelves: youth, historical, fantasy
Alternate universe where Napoleon won at Waterloo, changing absolutely everything in the world, and set in 1938 on the brink of a very different World War II. It was nearly awesome. It's definitely the first in a series, although a book two isn't mentioned; the last page has Sophie listing out the various mysteries she hasn't yet solved.

It's a fabulous idea, no doubt about it. The writing is pretty strong and it's action packed and very interesting. Some of it (IRYLNS, omg) was utterly horrifyin
The Library Lady
Jun 05, 2009 The Library Lady rated it liked it
Before I begin: I liked this, and I AM interested in reading the sequel that is obviously on its way. But so that others do not get confused when they begin to read this story:

The setting is Scotland in the 1930s. Only this IS NOT our version of history.

Napoleon WON at Waterloo, England has been taken over by France and Germany (and the current European "leader" apparently has a very familiar little mustache), and Scotland is a republic allied with nations of the old Hanseatic League.

Ibsen and S
Theodosia of the Fathomless Hall
Most impressive! Sophie Hunter, our protagonist appears to be slightly trite occasionally, but that results more from a very direct writing style than from actual flaw of her character. The sense of Sophie being in love with (view spoiler) without it engulfing the plot or making her prevaricate. The integrity of her characterization was marvelously well.

As in many alternate histories and steampunks, the setting is slightly convoluted and more cou
Sigrid Ellis
Jan 17, 2010 Sigrid Ellis rated it it was ok
While off to a very promising start -- an alternate universe in which Napoleon won the battle of Waterloo, and the Hanseatic League remains stalwart against the might of combined Europe while facing a second World War -- I found the ending to be completely . . . .

Well, completely pants.

It was sort of limp, left ALL the major questions of the book unanswered, and gave no clue as to whether the protagonist's action had made a damn bit of difference.

Here's the thing -- if you set up your protagonis
Apr 18, 2009 Magda rated it liked it
This book totally blew me away. I thought I knew what to expect, and it gave me something completely different and made me like it. A lot. The ending was weak, but leaves me in hope of a sequel. Too many unanswered questions.
Feb 16, 2009 Mathieu rated it did not like it
Nothing is resolved at the end, which feels rushed. Definitely not a kind repayment of the forbearance I displayed reading it to the bitter dregs.
Apr 04, 2016 Vibha rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
It was a nice read, i enjoyed it. But, i'm not really sure i ever found what Sophie was in danger from..or maybe it's just me
Feb 20, 2011 Lara rated it it was amazing
I'm still gathering my thought on it, review to come.
Nov 30, 2016 Gracie rated it really liked it
The Explosionist was a wonderful book. It was set in the 1930s and the European states are now separated and there is new technology. Everyone is on edge about a possible war looming and their fate. Most girls Sophie knows want to either go to IRYLNS or University. Sophie doesn’t know what she wants to do, that is until a medium she knows gets murdered. As she tries to reach the dead through multiple devices, she learns everything is not as it seems. After seeing what IRYLNS does first hand to ...more
Steampunky, ghosty alternate history with a sympathetic teen female lead, a fun, action-packed story and unique, if somewhat disorganized, world-building. Davidsons's reimagining of history and European politics, which included the preservation of the medieval Hanseatic alliance between northern states into the 1930s, the defeat of England at Waterloo, as well as the premature development of technology like hydrogen cars and transistor radios, was highly fascinating.

All of characters were likab
Meagan Lindsay
Aug 04, 2014 Meagan Lindsay rated it did not like it
This review is also on my tumblr

I really wanted to like this book. I mean, it's called The Explosionist, for crying out loud! Sounds awesome, right? But it was pretty awful.

For starters, it took me forever to figure out what was wrong with the history in this novel. I had no idea it was set in an alternate history, until at least 1/3 of the way in. From the phrasing on the book jacket, I assumed that Sophie and Mikael would do something to change history. But no, Davidson just took these charact
I thought this book was rather ordinary, and definitely not worth all the excitement I had over reading it, and finding it with Beryl at the bookshop for 2$. Lets just say I understand why it was only 2$.

First of all, this was extremely hard to understand. And not in a mysterious, interesting way. In the sense that the author never gave explanations or descriptions of the main, important events. Dialogues were often downright cut out and resumed into a paragraph. It was always unclear to me what
The Explosionist is an old favorite - I think I first read it a few months after it came out, and I've reread it periodically since then (though not in the last few years). It was the book that first introduced me to alternate history, which is one of my favorite subgenres (though one that I don't see too often). I find it to be very interesting - a whole "what if?" based on one simple event.
That simple event, as the description above says, was Waterloo. Because that changed, so did everything e
The Explosionist suffers from what a lot of YA books do, in that there is an interesting concept but the world building is minimal. Though the original premise and some of the developments were intriguing, many of them made no sense or didn’t have any clarification that would have benefited it.

This book is an alternative history, the premise of which is “what would the world be like if Napoleon had won at Waterloo?” The novel takes place one hundred and twenty-three years after the event, in S
May 28, 2011 meeners rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, ya, ww2
marvelous stuff! loved this book, as soon as i made my peace with the world-building and the unexpected threat of DYSTOPIAN VISIONS writ large. dystopian lit and i are not exactly the best of friends; often feels too much like the author is trying to blackmail me into agreeing with her/him. here, though, the caught-in-the-clutches-of-a-dastardly-blackmailer feeling was eventually defeated by a much warmer appreciation for davidson's thoughtful, intelligent engagement with the gendered consequenc ...more
Apr 13, 2010 Kayla rated it liked it
Shelves: advisory, 10th-grade
The Explosionsts
by Jenny Davidson
$17.99 Harper Teen

It all starts boom. Sophie goes to a girl's private school in Edinburg and lives with her aunt who heads the prestigious IRLYNS. The city is bustling with girls whom after the equivalent schooling of going through highschool go either to the military or to IRLYNS where they learn to work for men of high power or who need a secretary. Sophie's aunt strangely would rather her go to the University instead of getting caught up going
Feb 26, 2009 Theresa rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009, teens, fantasy
This was another Cybil nominee but this was by far one of the strangest things I've read in a while. It might have served the author and reader better to have the author's note placed before the story rather than after as she explains what parts of the story are reworked to create her alternate version of Edinburgh in the 1930s instead of the reader wondering throughout the entire book.

Sophie, a 15 year old girl attending a school for young ladies lives with her Great Aunt Tabitha on the weekend
Lyndsay L
Sep 28, 2011 Lyndsay L rated it liked it
The Explosionist was not quite what I expected when I checked it out of my library. However, I was rewarded with a different and, most certainly, interesting story.

The description for the book definitely caught my attention, but for some reason, I was expecting something totally different. For one thing, the book is littered with psychics and seances and etc. I'm not a fan of seances and psychics are neutral ground for me - I have no opinion on them. The story also failed to set a time period. I
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Jenny Davidson is a professor at Columbia University and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is the author of the novel HEREDITY (2003); two YA novels, THE EXPLOSIONIST (2008) and INVISIBLE THINGS (2010); and several academic books.
More about Jenny Davidson...

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