Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Series: Finishing School #1
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on February 5th 2013
Genres: Steampunk, YA (Young Adult)
Source: the library
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Also in this series: Curtsies & Conspiracies, Waistcoats & Weaponry
Also by this author: Curtsies & Conspiracies, Waistcoats & Weaponry
It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners--and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine's, young ladies learn to finish...everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but the also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage--in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year's education.
Set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, this YA series debut is filled with all the saucy adventure and droll humor Gail's legions of fans have come to adore.
Etiquette and Espionage is a grand romp, a marvelous mélange of steampunk, humor, and school story. Although it’s marketed as YA, the heroine’s age (fourteen), the content, and the writing style all make it suitable for advanced MG readers as well. And the heroine, Sophronia, is a delight. Resourceful, practical, curious, and spunky, she’s the perfect recruit for a finishing school that teaches espionage along with the usual accomplishments of a proper young lady.
The story is set in the same alternate Victorian England as Carriger’s adult steampunk/paranormal Parasol Protectorate series, but somewhat earlier – the mid-19th-century, in fact. I thoroughly enjoyed the world, with its steam- and gear-driven mechanimals, mechanical servants, and flying ship, its Victorian fashions and sensibilities. The paranormal elements are integral to the world, if not the plot: the girls’ teachers include an impeccably-dressed vampire and a werewolf. Their other teachers, while human, are equally unusual for a finishing school.
Carringer has created a whole series of wonderful secondary characters, all interesting and individual, who either aid or hinder Sophronia as she attempts to locate a mysterious “prototype.” There are Vieve, an eccentric nine-year-old inventor; Soap, a friendly “sootie” who works among the school’s machinery; Dimity, Sophronia’s roommate, who faints at the sight of blood; and Pillover, Dimity’s younger brother, sent off to a boarding school for evil geniuses although he has yet to reach even the level of spiteful genius. Monique, an older girl who failed to “finish” (accomplish her mission), is a constant thorn in Sophronia’s side, and Sophronia strives to keep her explorations and investigations secret from Monique as well as from their teachers.
My only complaint about the book is the cover. While it’s undoubtedly eye-catching, and it fits the current YA cover style admirably, the girl on the cover looks (and dresses) too old to be the fourteen-year-old Sophronia. In fact, while Sophronia does wear full skirts and multiple petticoats, that’s where the similarity to the cover model ends; Sophronia is most decidedly not a polished young lady yet. I do, however, love the damask background, with its subtle integration of Victorian-style floral flourishes and steampunk gears.
I devoured Etiquette and Espionage in a few hours. It’s a very quick, fast-paced book, but don’t read too quickly or you may miss something significant. I loved it, and I’ll be waiting eagerly for the next installment. Meanwhile, I’ll have to give Carriger’s adult Parasol Protectorate series a try. If she has infused that series with the same sly humor and cheerful playfulness seen in Etiquette and Espionage, I may have found a new favorite author.
Recommended for: fans of steampunk, school stories, and/or the children’s novels of Joan Aiken.
Read for the Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge sponsored by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer.