Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School)
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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 they 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.”
Just as I got this book, fortune smiled on me: Gail Carriger was scheduled to do a talk and signing at my local bookstore! Listening to her talk about her books was quite enjoyable, as her books are so well thought out that she had a lot to discuss. This new series takes place in the same universe as her Parasol Protectorate novels, and there’s a decent amount of crossover between the two tales.
A nice thing about this book, as well as the earlier ones, is how much humor the author includes. As she said in her talk, the Victorian era is filled with absurdities such as manners of dress and social customs, and the spirit of adventure often led those of the time period to try the most preposterous experiments. In the case of Etiquette and Espionage, young girls are taught the arts of spying and assassination in conjunction with the social graces of the time period. Each is given equal weight, so you could steal valuable information, but you’d need to be able to do so while navigating the ins and outs of a social gathering.
This book came across as more whimsical than the Parasol Protectorate novels. Sophronia and her friends are teenage girls, with all that implies, so readers should expect a bit more of the Victorian frippery and flutteriness than in the other series. The main character is sufficiently serious to avoid joining in with too much silliness, and she’s a good foil to some of the other girls. It’s also nice to see her interacting with characters that will be familiar to readers from the previous series, because you get a different view of them, and not just because they’re younger here.
As usual, Carriger’s worldbuilding is excellent. She really puts a lot of thought into how technology would be at this point, what kinds of restrictions would keep young ladies from being able to fully participate in society (or in espionage), and what people would wear and eat. Some of the best moments come, not when Sophronia is learning her craft, but when she’s trying to deal with the sometimes incomprehensible world of British social customs. I also love her little pet mechanimal, a robot that looks and acts like a small dog. It’s a nice touch that keeps the reader firmly in the “steampunk” aspects of this world without being too intrusive.
Carriger’s novels are always fun to read, and this one is no exception. Plus, if you ever get the chance to meet her, do so. She’s friendly, funny, and full of interesting stories and tidbits of information. Etiquette and Espionage may be firmly for the young adult crowd, but fans of Carriger’s other novels will enjoy this one too.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on March 17, 2013.