Skip to main content

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman

Review

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman

Who would have thought that the arrival of a new sixth-grade teacher at prestigious Wigpowder-Steele Academy would mark the end of life as 10-and-a-half-year-old Alexandra (Alex) Morningside knows it? At first, Alex --- who lives a pleasant but quiet life with her uncle, a doorknob salesman --- is just pleased that Mr. Underwood, who is as passionate about fencing as about good grammar, seems to offer a breath of fresh air in comparison with the school's older teachers.

As Mr. Underwood strikes up a friendship with Alex's uncle, though, Alex discovers that there is more to this mild-mannered, bicycle-riding teacher than first appears. It turns out that Mr. Underwood is none other than the heir to the legendary fortune, acquired generations ago by the Infamous Wigpowder, a dreaded pirate. It also turns out that Mr. Underwood is in grave danger from the descendants of the Wigpowder clan's rival, the dread pirate Captain Steele the Inevitable.

When Steele's men take Mr. Underwood hostage and bury Alex's uncle under a crushing pile of his own doorknobs, Alex knows that it's up to her to find the treasure map, rescue Mr. Underwood and help him claim his rightful inheritance. Armed only with her wits, Alex sets off on the adventure of a lifetime, doggedly pursued at every step by the evil (and very, very determined) Daughters of the Founding Fathers' Preservation Society. Can Alex discover Mr. Underwood's whereabouts before it's too late? Will she herself heed the call of piracy and the open sea? Dozens of adventures --- and at least as many eccentric characters --- lie in wait as Alex starts off on her quest.

ALEX AND THE IRONIC GENTLEMAN is Adrienne Kress's debut novel, the first in a projected series. Written in an old-fashioned, tongue-in-cheek style (chapters are all subtitled "In which Alex…etc."), the narrative includes plenty of snarky commentary a la Lemony Snicket: "Alex was whisked back into the air, over the side of HMS Valiant, and onto the deck of the most notorious pirate ship this side of the equator. A ship whose crew was as ruthless as a person not named Ruth." Although these asides occasionally fall flat, they just as often succeed riotously, greatly adding to readers' enjoyment, particularly when read aloud.

Just as enjoyable is the extensive cast of secondary characters who people the novel --- or should I say "inhabit," since several of them, including the Extremely Ginormous Octopus, the talking MakeCold 6000 refrigerator and a very temperamental cat named Giggles, are not people at all. The novel's episodic plot and rapidly shifting settings help keep interest high, as readers never know what new surprises are around the next corner --- or what horrors lurk on the other side of the museum's red velvet ropes. Alex is a plucky, matter-of-fact heroine whom audiences will be rooting for until the very last page.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 18, 2007

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman
by Adrienne Kress

  • Publication Date: September 18, 2007
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Weinstein Books
  • ISBN-10: 160286005X
  • ISBN-13: 9781602860056