(Finishing School #1)
Release: February 5, 2013
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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 the bane of her mother's existence. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper etiquette at tea--and god forbid anyone see her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. She enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
But little do Sophronia or her mother know that this is a school where ingenious young girls learn to finish, all right--but it's a different kind of finishing. Mademoiselle Geraldine's certainly trains young ladies in the finer arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but also in the other kinds of finishing: the fine arts of death, diversion, deceit, espionage, and the modern weaponries. Sophronia and her friends are going to have a rousing first year at school.
First in a four book YA series set 25 years before the Parasol Protectorate but in the same universe.
“What was that?”
“A maid mechanical, dear. I know you’re from the country, but surely your family cannot be so backward as that!”
“No, of course not. My family has a butler, an 1846 Frowbritcher. But why doesn’t yours have a proper face?”
“Because it doesn’t need one.”
Sophronia was a little embarrassed, but it had to be said: “But her parts are exposed!”
“Mm, yes, shocking.”
Etiquette & Espionage is a fun steampunk YA by the queen of steampunk, Gail Carriger. I admit to not having read Carriger's popular adult series, Parasol Protectorate, but after reading - and loving! - this book I will certainly be remedying that!
My fear when starting E & E was that, being a full-fledged steampunk full of all the necessary quips and smarminess, it wouldn't engage me in the story or it wouldn't have the heart that I need in a book to really love it. I was pleasantly surprised that while this book has all the typical steampunk elements, lead character, Sophronia, and her friends provided a lot of that heart for the story and I fell completely in love with their world.
Sophronia is a charming and fearless tomboy less interested in beautiful dresses and more interested in taking apart her family's clockwork butler to discover how it works. Her mother decides to send her to a finishing school and she ends up at Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, which by the way is on an enormous dirigible (sky ship) but, of course. As Sophronia learns more about her new school and the world of espionage, we get a lot of laughs.
Sophonia's closest friend in the book is Dimity, a sweet but slightly air headed character who faints on a consistent basis. She provided several comic moments throughout the story that had me giggling, but her loyalty to Sophronia was what really endeared me to her.
“The werewolf handed the bloody stick back to Monique, who took it with a little curtsy.
Dimity fell facedown into the grass in a dead faint…
Someone passed over the sal volatile, and soon enough, her friend’s soft brown eyes blinked open. Sophronia helped Dimity to sit, and while she did so she whispered in one ear, “Monique has an advocate on staff. I think that’s how she managed to keep the prototype location secret.”
Dimity looked at her, still recovering. “Really, Sopronia, it makes me most uncomfortable how you mange to sort everything out every time I faint.”
Also both hilarious and adorable is Sophronia's 'pet', a mechanimal in the form of a metal Dachshund of sorts named Bumbersnoot. How does Carriger make a mechanical animal out to have so much personality? I have no idea, but she did it and I fell in love.
Of course, there is also plenty of learning to become spymasters (while also learning how to carry a handkerchief) and many hair-brained schemes hatched by Sophronia in order to solve a mystery while aboard the ship. There's even a little forbidden romance, both sweet and exciting at the same time.
I highly recommend this one to readers! I think many will fall in love with this book whether you've read Carriger's other works or not.
Recommended for fans of: light and funny YA, seriously thorough steampunk, Gail Carriger, metal dogs that eat coal, Victorian manners and dress, and clockwork servants.
This review is based on an advance copy of the book.
4.5 / 5 stars