One of the hardest things to do is to unlearn. To completely reset everything you’ve ever learnt and to replace it all with new ideals. Realizations that, as hard as they are to understand, have the capacity to change your life forever. In The Troubled Girls Of Dragomir Academy, 12-year-old Marya Lupu finds herself caught in the middle of a struggle between her parents and the town of Torak, her peers at the mysterious school she has been sent to, and everything she starts to unravel inside of it.
In the kingdom of Illyria, every boy has the potential to become a sorcerer, to hold invariably large amounts of magic. Our protagonist, Marya Lupu, however, has spent all her life in the shadow of her brother, Luka Lupu, who, solely because of his gender, has caused his conservative family to glorify him to an agonizingly large extent. Marya, no matter how much she longs to be more than a helper, or more than a documenter of history, has always been told that she was meant for this by her parents. When she accidentally manages to ruin Luka’s test for magical ability while also talking back to a sorcerer of high position, she gets sent to the Dragomir Academy for Troubled Girls, a secretive school for girls with supposedly distressing pasts to turn over a new leaf.
While Marya starts to find her way around the school’s ways while also starting to make new friends in the Rose Hall, the threat of the Dread, a deadly fog-like force that went from town to town to devour its people—the result of the magic of the witches of Kel (according to High Count Arel, one of the sorcerers from the sorcerer’s guild, a group dedicated to fostering magic to the boys in Illyria and protecting its citizens from the Dread)—starts to make its way closer to the Academy. She starts to explore the secrets of the academy and its deviously rich founders, and slowly the puzzle pieces of an entire hidden past start to fall in place.
Stuck between her teachers, her newfound family, and an unexposed fourth wall of magic, will Marya navigate through the murky waters of Dragomir Academy to finally figure out what the magic of Illyria truly is meant to be?
There were a lot of things that stuck out to me in this novel, one of them being the foreshadowing and core messages tucked inside the vivid characters of the story. Marya’s character arc consists of her learning to unlearn everything, to use conscious thought to analyze everything she has ever learnt before coming to a conclusion. One of my favourite characters, Mademoiselle Lucille Bandu, is a Master Weaver and one of Marya’s earliest influences. She helped her look past the stereotypes Illyrian society placed upon her and kept in contact as long as she could during our protagonist’s time at the academy. The world-building and magic system were well developed without being confusing; all the characters in the story got their own character arc without being left behind. My most favourite thing about this book was how the magic itself was introduced. It made use of the characters and plot lines to elevate its significance, and, rather than being specific, it was introduced as a life form, an abstract default of sorts that existed all around them, thought of as you’d think of a particularly beautiful natural environment.
When I first finished reading this book, there were so many intricacies to think about that it left my head in a daze for nearly a week. The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is a spellbinding piece of fiction that will leave you thinking about Illyria and its tapestries for a long time after.
The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu. Walden Pond Press, 2021. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!