In this third series outing, five young ladies with exceptional abilities continue to work together as British counterespionage agents during the Napoleonic wars.
The plot kicks off as the cocky, white American inventor Alexander Sinclair prepares to sail his new warship to London to be used by the British navy against the French invasion. Lady Jane, a white Stranje House girl narrating in an Austen-esque tone, conveniently stumbles upon two spies conspiring in the dead of night, learning that they know of the existence of this secret military steamship. The ladies of Stranje House, along with Mr. Sinclair, concoct an ingenious idea to secretly smuggle the steamship into London under the watchful eyes of the enemy. As cover, headmistress Miss Stranje decides to host a coming-out ball for the young ladies in London so they can investigate and, hopefully, thwart any threats that might endanger England. Baldwin’s evocation of this odd school of unusual girls falls flat with contrived romance narratives that play out predictably and characters that lack complexity. The plot is stretched thin as if in a war of its own, a narrative that cannot decide whether it’s a romance or spy novel. The girls brood over their fates although they enjoy the luxury of servants and seamstresses. Moments of witty banter feel artificial, as does Lady Jane’s secret, which is drawn out far too long for its revelation to be effective.
The premise is fizzier than the execution. (Mystery/historical fiction. 12-18)