Series: Finishing School #2
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 5th 2013
Genres: Steampunk, YA (Young Adult)
Source: the library
Also in this series: Etiquette & Espionage, Waistcoats & Weaponry
Also by this author: Etiquette & Espionage, Waistcoats & Weaponry
Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests? Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests?
Sophronia's first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy (won't Mumsy be surprised?). Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners.
Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers' quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship's boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot--one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot-and survive the London Season with a full dance card.
Curtsies & Conspiracies is almost as much fun as the first book in the series, Etiquette & Espionage — and that’s saying a lot, because E&E was terrific. Carriger has created an engaging main character in Sophronia, a “covert recruit” to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, where they train young ladies in the fine arts of napkin folding, proper dress, flirtation, intelligence gathering, and assassination. Intelligent, determined, and with a Harry-Potter-like disregard for the rules (as long as she doesn’t get caught), Sophronia is the perfect future agent — always assuming she lives through her training.
There’s quite a lot going on in this book, and some of it might be a bit difficult for younger readers to follow at first, particularly the goals and machinations of the Picklemen and the vampire hives. But hang in there, as it all becomes clearer over time. We find out more about the mysterious ‘prototype’ which figured in the first book, and why various groups have an interest in controlling it. A school trip to London accompanied by some of the teachers and boys from Bunson’s, a training school for Evil Geniuses, adds both excitement and distraction as one of the young men, Lord Mersey, appears interested in Sophronia. And an apparent attempt to kidnap Sophronia’s best friend, Dimity, leaves Sophronia uneasily on her guard. Could everything — the trip to London, the boys’ presence, the prototype, even Dimity’s safety — be tied together?
I love the steampunk/paranormal world Carriger has created. The school has both a vampire and a werewolf on its teaching staff, and Sophronia’s illicit mechanimal, a clockwork dog called Bumbersnoot, is a delight. Carriger’s decision to set the school in a massive dirigible was brilliant, because it both isolates the school, and hence the girls, and gives them mobility — not to mention all the opportunities for Sophronia and others to sneak about, outside the hull as well as inside. It also offers the chance to mingle (clandestinely, of course) with the ‘lower orders’ in the form of the sooties who keep the boilers running and maintain the ship. Sophronia’s friend Soap is one of these, and the two are clearly developing feelings that go beyond friendship. There are also hints of a triangle forming, as Felix, Lord Mersey, seems determined to flirt with Sophronia, who isn’t impervious to his charms. So far, the series still seems aimed at younger YA and even older MG readers, but Sophronia and her cohorts are maturing, and that’s reflected in her thoughts and their actions.
The series is written in tight third-person; Sophronia is the only person whose thoughts we are privy to, and we only see and observe what she does Occasionally the narration steps outside that viewpoint to comment on Sophronia — for instance, to point out her obliviousness to her own charms. The sudden switch feels awkward, even jarring, and doesn’t match the smooth and easy competence of Carriger’s style. This happens only rarely, however, and many readers will probably not even notice. On the other hand, Carriger’s witty humor and imagination make her a delight to read.
Despite everything we learn about Sophronia’s world and the more immediate puzzle of the prototype and the factions vying for it, quite a bit remains unexplained by the end of the book. Carriger plans four books for the series, so we’re only half-way through, and it feels like it. I can’t wait to find out what happens in the next book, Waistcoats & Weaponry! Meanwhile, I will have to check out her Parasol Protectorate series, adult books set in the same world, to feed my growing Carriger addiction.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge