This quirky and action-packed story is about a ten-and-a-half-year-old girl named Alex (who is constantly being confused with being a boy because of her short hair, feisty attitude and dislike for skirts) who lives with her kindly uncle and goes to a prestigious private school (because her uncle is on the Board). Although she loves learning, she dislikes school because of her shallow classmates and her old-fashioned teachers. But this all changes when she gets a brand-new teacher, Mr. Underwood, just as she begins sixth grade, who teaches her to fence and use correct grammar. Alex and her uncle befriend the teacher and he reveals to them that he is heir to an enormous hidden treasure garnered by his piratical great-great-great-grandfather, the infamous Wigpowder.
Slight Spoiler Alert
Of course, the current infamous pirate Steele kidnaps Mr. Underwood so as to have to treasure for herself, kills Alex's uncle and leaves Alex homeless. Whereupon, Alex sets off to find her favorite teacher (taken aboard the notorious pirate ship, The Ironic Gentleman) and rescue him. Her journey takes her on a number of adventures, from placating a ginormous Octopus to becoming a mind-reading personal assistant to rescuing a train of partiers having their souls stolen from them. Naturally, the story concludes on the high seas in a swashbuckling climax.
Alex and the Ironic Gentleman was action-packed and took many unexpected twists and turns, (I was particularly intrigued by the moral dilemma Alex struggles with during her captivity on the pirate ship). I enjoyed the unusual experiences and the chummy tone of the author- similar to E. Nesbit- as well as the very well-defined characters. And anyone who has ever gotten yelled at (or whispered at) when visiting a museum will enjoy the comeuppance of the villainous Daughters of the Founding Fathers' Preservation Society.
The one problem I had with the book was the amount of character casualties. I know that the Harry Potter books, especially the final one, had no problem killing off many of the readers' favorite characters; J. K. Rowling said it was to exhibit the horrors of war. Yet this book didn't really go as dark and foreboding as the Potter series; having characters, side characters or otherwise, drop like flies was a bit disturbing. I like happy endings and everyone coming out okay.
If Ms. Kress decides to release another novel, I will certainly read it- I loved her page-turning plot and her larger than life characters. Yet I will be careful not to get too attached to any characters in the story... just in case.