2 out of 5 stars
I received an ARC of this work.
An socially awkward and unusual girl who prefers scholastics to dancing is sentenced to boarding school by her exasperated parents. Expecting a jail sentence of etiquette lessons and giggling debutantes, Georgie is instead groomed to start helping the anti-Napoleon war effort with her unusual gift for chemistry. Her classmates also have an range of socially inappropriate abilities and a number of the neighbours are interested, on one side or another, in the conflict. Georgie has to decide who is a friend, who is an enemy, and what she personally can do to help keep Napoleon for returning.
I have had quite a bit of luck with boarding school novels in the past (thanks Gail Carriger!) so I went into this one with quite high hopes. Most of them were disappointed. It is not a bad book, just not a great or fantastic one. The protagonist almost immediately falls for a guy she perceives as being disrespectful and annoying (because that is sexy I guess?) and spends about half of the book trying to decide whether to be in love or not. Because of these frequent side-trips to mooney-eyed, lovey-land, the actual meat of the plot reads more like a short story than a full novel. All the other relationships outside of the love interest are developed, but not in an in-depth, realistic way. Too much attention is paid to romance and not enough on the story. This book either needs to be longer, or have some pruning done in the romance section because it takes up far too much of the book.
The characters also do not grow much. Georgie is, understandably, upset that her parents dumped her at, what they understood to be at least, a freakishly strict boarding school, but she gets over that really quickly, without really having made much progress with any of her other relationships. Her friendships with the other girls grow rather woodenly and suddenly, without any meaningful emotional interaction. Her crush treats her poorly and she falls for him. She barely says anything to any of her teachers but comes to trust them. Everything is hurried through so quickly none of it seems at all realistic or even understandable.
One of my favourite parts of historical fantasy that this book really skimped on is descriptions of surroundings and costumes and manners. It is sprinkled in, but does not paint a complete picture. You get the sense that you are in history, but not when until someone mentions Napoleon.
The premise is one I like, but will take a little more to pull of successfully. It is something not bad enough to make me stop reading, but something I am not going to read again, or read the sequels to. If you like lots of romance in your historical fantasy (and not a lot of fantasy), then this might be the book for you, but it was not the book for me.