Etiquette and Espionage (Finishing School #1)
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.
Imagine a world where young men learn the skills to become the next evil geniuses, and young women are taught the fine art of curtseying - as well as those of poisoning, deceit and espionage.
Certainly these skills are far more valuable than English, Maths and Science!
So hop aboard a dirigible and take flight today, joining Sophronia and her motley group of friends and allies as they get the education of a lifetime!
The voices of the characters are perfect for their age - and there are some familiar faces for those who have read the Parasol Protectorate novels. Different fashions to imagine, different technologies to wrap your head around - and new questions blossoming in your head!
As a separate series this is working well so far, but is still fascinating for those who have already been introduced to this wonderful world.
I can't wait for the next one. Oh, and can I have a mechanimal?
Let me share one insightful moment from Miss Sophronia: "Monique, instead of striking out in the manner of Sidheag, stepped in toward the werewolf. She commented on the pleasantness of the night and the beauty of the countryside. She fluttered her eyelashes in a way Sophronia had come to recognize as very advanced. I should never have thought there would be a time when I would envy another girl's eyelash manipulation." You see they are being taught to properly eyelash fluttering as only you would learn in a finishing school and the girls are half in love with the werewolf, thus the envy that tom-boyish Sophronia experiences. :)
I absolutely loved Sophronia's character! I loved how she thought; stating things in such a matter-of-fact way and how she made connections from observation. Quite an intriguing mind. She also comes across as straight forward, even though some underestimate her.
I do wish I would have gotten just a little bit more information on the story-book world. I wasn't completely sure exactly why things were as they were with the whole aether and such. However, this wasn't a huge influence on the story, so it still worked.
I will definitely be recommending this to my teenage niece and to anyone else who enjoys an intelligent MC and witty dialogue or is a fan of Ally Carter. The characters are in their early teens, but I'm guessing they'll grow up a little as the series progresses, which I will definitely be following!
Very fun plot.
Let's start with the things I wasn't such a fan of.
Things move incredibly slowly and the plot isn't all that engaging. Sure, there's the larger plot with secretive things going on meant to keep the reader curious, but it didn't really do much for me. The bigger plot point seemed to be Sophronia's growth in finishing school. I enjoyed watching Sophronia make friends and grow a little more, but I spent the majority of the book waiting for some bigger plot point to present itself. I think I might have enjoyed Etiquette & Espionage had I gone in with different expectations.
As I said before, while I did find myself enjoying Sophronia and her friends' day-to-day school life, the entire book felt like one big set-up. To be fair, this is the first book in a series, but I generally want to be sucked into the initial story in order to make me continue on with the series. Etiquette & Espionage only just managed to catch my interest.
The crazy names got to me at first, but I did end up growing used to them.
Now onto more positive things!
Is it bad if my absolute favorite thing about the story was Bumbersnoot? Bumbersnoot is a little mechanical dog who happens to have a lot of personality considering he's a machine. He's just so stinkin' adorable with his storage compartment and mini-furnace. What's not to love about a little dog who can store things for you as well as burn up evidence?
The characters of Etiquette & Espionage are all pretty diverse, and I definitely have some favorites, so I'll just talk about those since there's quite the cast.
Sophronia: I like that Sophronia grew as a person and a lady, but still kept hold of her true self. Sure, she starts learning what dresses to wear and how to act in the presence of men, but she also enjoys the company of the low-class Sooties and doesn't shun them for their lot in life.
Dimity: I found Dimity to be a bit annoying in the beginning. She seems to honestly only care about dresses and pretty things, when it comes down to it, though, she's a great friend to Sophronia.
Soap: Soap is basically awesome. He's a Sootie who immediately takes a liking to Sophronia and steals my heart as well. He has this air of happiness around him that's a bit infectious. He doesn't take himself too seriously, but is still a perfect gentleman. Basically, I ship Sophronia and Soap ;]
Professor Braithwope: I'm not exactly sure what it is about him, but I quite like him. Maybe it's that he's a slightly quirky vampire with gentlemanly ways. Plus, he seems to be the nicest of the professors.
The Nutshell: I found Etiquette & Espionage to be a slow read mainly focused on setting up the rest of the series, but still enjoyable. If you go into it expecting a bit of a slow story with a main focus on school life then you'll likely enjoy Etiquette & Espionage!
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).