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The Explosionist (The Explosionist #1)

3.43  ·  Rating Details  ·  619 Ratings  ·  148 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 pre ...more
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published July 1st 2008 by HarperTeen
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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 O ...more
La Coccinelle
Mar 18, 2014 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 use ...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 r ...more
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
May 08, 2016 Julia 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Natalie Tanner
Sep 10, 2015 Natalie Tanner rated it did not like it
The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson had a great synopsis. An alternate dimension based in the 1930's-ish, around the time of advances in technology in warfare. It alludes to espionage and thrilling conspiracies just waiting to unwind. In reality, I guess everything about this synopsis is true, except the thrilling part.
Let's start off with the plot. The synopsis was based around the "what-if" of a historical event, showing an alternate reality. I spent literally half the book just trying to figur
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
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
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.
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
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
Aug 03, 2011 Kelsi rated it it was ok
This book was definitely a struggle for me. I'm not partial to the author's writing style. It's very sporadic as if the author's writing her own thoughts instead of the character's. The character will be in the middle of an inner struggle of questions and it will just suddenly stop and segue into a detailed description of something I find unimportant. The story idea was good, but the execution was subpar. I muscled through to the end of the book to see how all the chaos and confusion came togeth ...more
BookChic Club
Nov 22, 2013 BookChic Club rated it it was amazing
I borrowed this book way back when from The Compulsive Reader because it sounded like such an amazing book. However, it was also very long and it took me a while to actually get around to it; well, now I finally have and I can tell you that I was not disappointed. I really enjoyed the fantasy element of it being about one moment in history being altered, like the summary says, and imagining what the world would be like. The story is full of intrigue, suspense, action, but the main character of S ...more
The cover says this is about a girl in boarding school and her friend who solve the murder of a medium, but I could not make it through the book to see if this was true or not.

The cover also says this is the author's first young adult book (she has written other fiction before) and I believe it. I am not sure what time period this took place in except I think it was around the end of the Victorian era and before WWI. I'm not sure if it was fictional stuff or real stuff, partly because I don't kn
Sep 10, 2008 MountainLaurel rated it really liked it
I mostly liked this book, but the way Jenny Davidson had a sort of alternate history going on was pretty confusing. It actually made me go, "What? I thought Wellington won at the Battle of Waterloo!" before I realized that it was supposed to be different (and I never figured out exactly why it was written like that anyway).

Sophie was a slightly boring character, but everybody else was more interesting and that really helped with the story. IRLYNS was scary and I actually thought that that was th
Jan 24, 2011 Alethea rated it liked it
Original. Unusual. Vividly imagined.

A pity it's not a better book.

I can't really blame the author for the fact that this is the first part of a series--of the irritating sort that does not resolve at the end of a book but just truncates at a convenient break in the action--and is not packaged as such, though that is one of my favorite pet peeves.

What I can gripe about is the fact hat the author seems far more taken with her world than with ensuring consistency and coherence of character and plo
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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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The Explosionist (2 books)
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