Goodreads: The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy
Series: None (yet)
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: ARC for review
Publication Date: October 12, 2021
If no one notices Marya Lupu, is likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: that Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.
The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city of Illyria, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in in the kingdom holds the potential for the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread.
For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy–a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.
Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself–things that threaten the precarious balance upon which Illyria is built.
The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy jumps into the heart of its problem from the very first page: girls in Marya’s kingdom are given no opportunities. Marya is raised to believe the shortcomings are hers, that’s she’s useless and messes everything up and gets in her brother’s way, but when she’s sent to a school for “troubled girls,” she and her friends begin questioning everything they’ve been taught and unraveling mysteries about their school and their country that have lasted centuries. The result is an immersive, engaging story that both enthralls and enrages.
I always think I’m over stories about the patriarchy and the oppression of girls. It’s an important topic and, of course, a personal one as I’m a woman, but I do get tired of reading books with “Girls aren’t allowed to do anything” as the premise. However, Ursu digs deep into history for her story, and her take on this premise is thoughtful and complex. Indeed, it’s actually very dark at times, as characters try to convince girls they are insane rather than admit they might have knowledge or talents, but Marya’s independence and optimism help readers see the light at the end of the tunnel. Readers believe that Marya will use her wits and bits of women’s knowledge and secrets that have been passed down through generations to get out of her troubles and to find fairness for girls they’ve been denied.
The plot is ever-twisting, and I’m pleased to report that while I was close with some of my predications, I was never 100% correct. Ursu keeps readers on their toes and builds a complex web of lies and clues and magic that will hold its own for readers both young and old. I was excited to find out what would happen next, what Marya and her friends would do and what they would uncover, and I kept turning page after page to find out.
The end of the book feels a bit rushed, but everything gets wrapped up, so The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy can work as a standalone. There’s doom for sequels, and I think a lot of readers will be clamoring to hear more about Marya and her friends and their next adventures, so hopefully a new book contract is in the cards for Anne Ursu.
If you like fantasy and books about tearing down the patriarchy, this will definitely appeal to you.