Review Detail4.7 5
WRITING: Ms. Carriger's style is easy to read and highly engaging - both times I read this book I breezed through it. She has a prim wit and a deft hand for excavating levity from the formal dialect of Victorian English. Her skill especially shines in dialogue.
She also has a comical way with names, from places to people (Lord Dingleproops) to things (the "Depraved Lens of Crispy Magnification," for example). In this area she really reminds me of a female P.G. Wodehouse, which makes sense as she claims the author as an influence.
SETTING: Ms. Carriger's world is an altered version of our history that runs with the question of, "What would things have been like if there really had been supernatural beings living among us?" With her knowledge well grounded in actual history (in her former life she was an archaeologist), she effortlessly explains how vampires would've obviously had a hand in this or that fashion craze, and werewolves most certainly would've been a pivotal aspect of the British military. While adding supernatural creatures into the mix may sound like a vast alteration, Ms. Carriger's world is still so very familiar that you can't help but wonder if perhaps it might really true after all...
CHARACTERS: Sophronia is highly inquisitive and not unlike a sponge in the way she soaks up information, secret or otherwise. While her feminine ways are in desperate need of refining, it's obvious from the start that she has a bright (and rather unladylike) future ahead of her. She is one of the strongest, most unflinching and capable female characters I have come across in a long while - she makes her own questions, roots out her own answers, and doesn't look to a boy or an adult to save her (unless it's her idea, of course).
As for the supporting cast, Sophronia's best friend Dimity, with her love of shiny things and propensity to faint at the most inappropriate moments, is the perfect companion, confidante, and conspirator. And one cannot help but fall in love with Sophronia's "pet" Bumbersnoot, although I still suspect him of ulterior motives of espionage. The other girls in her study group (elegant and inelegant alike) round off the cast nicely, as do Sophronia's "unseemly" companions belowdecks, and an assortment of eccentric teachers.
Ms. Carriger has a delightful way of describing, and especially introducing, characters. All are colorful and highly entertaining - not a boring one in the bunch. Not even the lowliest character goes forgotten once Ms. Carriger gets done with them.
STORY: This is truly a tale of etiquette and espionage - and the hijinks that ensue from both. It's a classic "first year at boarding school" story, with all the intrigue of making new friends, new enemies, and the constant investigation to discover the mysteries of the school itself. The plot is fun and engaging and a journey of a mystery that Sophronia is more than willing to take. She bravely powers through every obstacle and roots out the answers through newly-endowed stealth, the right (and wrong) kind of acquaintances, and a great deal of climbing. Think of her as Harry Potter, but with more social restrictions and gobs more spunk and gumption.
FURTHER COMMENTS: I'm not usually much for steampunk (typically too technical for my palette), and my love affair with the paranormal wore off a while ago. But Ms. Carriger's fresh take on both is such that even the likes of me can be engaged and entertained. Her steampunk feels natural, not a showy spectacle but an everyday part of the setting. And the supernatural beings are not fearful creatures that stalk the night, but just another, albeit unusual, ethnic group one stumbles across in evening society.
MY ONLY COMPLAINT: The opening scene (aka "The Incident with the Dumbwaiter (and the Trifle)") was rather a disaster. I couldn't follow it at all, it was so choppy and confusing. I didn't even realize Sophronia was actually in the dumbwaiter until she launched herself out of it! This is the sixth book I have read by Ms. Carriger, and her other five opening scenes were stellar, so I honestly have no idea what happened here. Whatever you do, DO NOT judge this book by its opening scene. Because you will miss out on an absolutely wonderful book if you do.
CONCLUSION: Etiquette & Espionage is a highly entertaining read that I shall recommend to anyone and everyone for years to come. I look forward to Book the Second, Curtsies & Conspiracies, later this year with immense anticipation!
GENRE: Young Adult Paranormal Steampunk
RATING: Teen (some violence, rule-breaking throughout, the viscous mauling of both an undergarment and an outer-garment, implied tipsiness, several instances of assault by food, and Pickelmen)
The full review, which includes quotes from the book, my Love List, and quite a few other things, can be found on my blog (scribblerskye.blogspot.com).