Invisible Things, by Jenny Davidson

In The Explosionist (my review), Jenny Davidson introduced Sophie, a plucky young Scottish girl living in an alternate version of the 1930s--a world in which Scotland and Scandinavia are allied against the rest of Europe, and in which the threat of a second world war is looming. In that book, Sophie found herself embroiled in a chaotic mystery involving terrorist bombings, a murdered medium, and her own growing abilities to communicate with the dead.

Sophie escaped from Scotland concealed in a false-bottomed trunk. When Invisible Things (Harper Collins, 2010), begins, she is in Copenhagen, living over the laboratories and offices of Denmark's top physicists, in an apartment shared with her more than just a good friend, Mikael, and (dampeningly) Mikael's mother. Sophie is fascinated by the physics going on beneath her feet (as it were), especially since her parents were killed working on a top secret project of their own. It was a project of interest not only to the reclusive, ancient, genius Alfred Nobel, but to all the governments of Europe...a project that could change the course of history.

As the threat of war grows, so does the mystery surrounding Sophie's parents, and the danger to Sophie and Mikael themselves. At the heart of the mystery is a strange woman named Elsa Blix, who seems to hold, from her command center on the island of Svalbard far to the north, the fate of both Sophie, and maybe all of Europe, in her cold hands....

Invisible Things is a delight for those who enjoy generous doses of physics in their fairy tale retellings! For the inspiration of this book is Hans Christian Anderson's story of the Snow Queen--the story of a malevolent, beautiful witch who took a boy and turned him into ice, and of the brave girl who set off into the frozen north to save him. But this fairy tale is firmly rooted in particles and politics, and the focus stays tightly fixed on the character of Sophie--she's not a fairy-tale avatar, but a 16 year old girl trying to figure out who she is, and who she might want to be. I am very fond of thoughtful, introspective Sophie, and it was lovely to spend more time with her!

The first two thirds of the book are slow and detailed. For those interested in the what ifs of alternate histories, physics (I loved this aspect of the book, and was thrilled, for instance, to meet Lise Meitner) and lavish descriptions of deserts (although Sophie's desert choices were not the ones I would have made!), and for those who enjoy erudite storytelling of a decidedly non-colloquial sort, its enjoyable reading. This first part of the book contrasts with the more frenetic pace of events when the even tenor of Sophie's life was shattered--war comes, Mikael is gone, and she must find him. But Sophie's quest felt rushed to me, and seemed to end rather abruptly, and I kept waiting in vain for Sophie's supernatural gifts (which I felt added greatly to The Explosionist) to play a part in this book.

In short, I liked this one just fine, and read it very happily, but The Explosionist I love! You don't have to have read The Explosinist first to read Invisible Things, but it will add to your enjoyment.

Here's Jenny Davidson talking about world building and alternate history at Creative Writing Now, and another review at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.

(disclaimer: review copy requested, and very gladly received, from the publisher)


  1. Whatever about the book: whoever did the photoshoppery on the cover should be slapped, because the pupil didn't need to be that dilated, nor did it need to be off-center. I mean, really. That's just ... wrong.

  2. When I look at the cover, I get so distracted by the lipstick (not very Sophie-ish) that I don't see anything else...

  3. Charlotte, I'm still puzzled on why the spiritualism element was dropped. I'm hoping that the 3rd book gets more into it -- did being in a world of science affect it?

  4. Re: spiritualism - sounds like a good question for Jenny - and I don't think there is a third book on the horizon.

    And there's so many wrong things about this cover, I don't know where to begin!

  5. I like alternate history, and of course authors who are called Jenny. :D

  6. You should definitly try The Explosionist, Jenny!


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