Marya Lupu is quickly finding out the kingdom of Illyria is the worst place to be a girl. It’s male dominance everywhere you look.

Boys are watched carefully for any indications of magical potential. They are a much needed protector in this world. Older brother Luka is one of those boys. If Luka passes the test he will groomed as a sorcerer to save the country from a deadly force known as the Dread.

Meanwhile, Marya is to stay in the background as girls are treated as second class citizens where education is not a priority. Any indications of magic or disrespect in young girls will have the men in charge sending them off to Dragomir Academy. There they are trained to lead a life of service to the country’s powerful sorcerers. Cooking, cleaning, weaving, and library jobs are on the top of the list.

When testing day arrives for her brother, Marya makes a terrible mistake leading to her required entry into Dragomir Academy. It’s 100 miles from home and both parents seem pleased to be rid of their child. Marya is in a strange and unfamiliar place with newbies like her and other girls who have been at the academy for years.

What she and her classmates learn about the school is the focus. Questions about the headmaster and what is really behind all the secrecy of this place is eventually revealed. Character arcs for all take a fulfilling turn.

World building of this unfamiliar country takes time. The third person narration spreads out over 423 pages. It moves along at a gentle pace, but may not be a reluctant reader’s best choice. Although this was more of a story about getting answers, I’m hoping for a sequel to see if there is continued action on the girls part to change the future history in Marya’s world. Magic, mystery, and friendship come together is a satisfying plot.

Five more things to like about THE TROUBLED GIRLS OF DRAGOMIR ACADEMY by Anne Ursu

  1. Marya’s parents paid no attention to her, but thankfully a neighbor becomes more like a mother to her. She also has a thread of hope that her brother can become more of a brother to her.
  2. The power men yield in Illyria are no a match for girl power. What a great theme to carry out.
  3. Symbols woven into the tapestries adorning the halls of Dragomir is a perfect connection for Marya to find answers. Research is often done not in books but my observing.
  4. “Who does the story serve?” is a question brought up throughout. You’ll discover the answer by book’s end.
  5. Marya is a strong, realistic girl. She suffers through her poor choices but also displays an inner drive to not be powerless. You will like Marya a lot.


Anne Ursu is the author of acclaimed novels The Lost Girl, Breadcrumbs, and The Real Boy, which was longlisted for the National Book Award. The recipient of the McKnight Fellowship in Children’s Literature, Anne is also a member of the faculty at Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She lives in Minneapolis with her family and an ever-growing number of cats. (for more check out Anne’s author web site.)


I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Comments are open below!

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
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  1. I enjoy fantasies, and this one sounds good, espcially girl power winning out. Thanks for featuring it this week.

  2. This sounds like a very different fantasy. I like the plot and the differences about how boys and girls are treated. Sounds like Marya will find her place.I like Anne Ursu, so will add this to my list. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I’ve heard so much about this book and your review has clinched it for me. Luckily I’m going to the library this afternoon. Thanks for this great review.

  4. This seemed a lot like Hale’s Princess Academy. You are right that it’s “not be a reluctant reader’s best choice.”

  5. This has been on my TBR for a while, thanks for the review, it sounds good!

  6. Sue Heavenrich says:

    Oooh! A new (to me at least) fantasy to indulge in! Thanks for sharing your thoughts – it looks like a wonderful winter-hibernation read.

  7. Joy Isley says:

    I am always looking for new authors to read. This book sounds really good

  8. This sounds a bit like the Princess Academy books, as Mrs. Yingling mentioned. I’m not much of a fantasy reader, but I do like strong girl stories. I might get to this one. Thanks for telling me about it.

  9. Completely Full Bookshelf says:

    I think I’ve heard bits and pieces about this book, but I appreciate the full review of it! The story sounds so intriguing—between the exploration of sexism throughout society and the mystery behind the school itself (and of course the intriguing protagonist), it sounds like there’s a lot to love here! Thanks so much for the great review, Greg!

  10. Pingback: A 5-way Double Giveaway | Always in the Middle…

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