ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE
FINISHING SCHOOL BOOK THE FIRST
Published: 5 February 2013
On the cover:
It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly.It's quite another to learn to curtsy andthrow 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 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...
Etiquette & Espionage is set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate series. However it is not necessary to read any of those books before you read this, it is set before them but is not a prequel. But if you have read the Parasol Protectorate series, you will welcome seeing characters from that series making an appearance.
The novel contains a lot of the same combination of humour and action, in a Victorian Steampunk setting, that has made Miss Carriger a name in SFF circles. If you are unfamiliar with that, a short description would be Humorous Alternate History Victorian Steampunk Fantasy. (That is not really an established SFF subgenre by the way.)
The tone of this novel is set early on. By the end of the first chapter we have gotten a good glimpse into the feel of the novel. We have also learned quite a bit about where Sophronia comes from and what kind of person she is. But that is just the beginning of the story, as the book progresses, we follow Sophronia on what is essentially a discovery of one of the hidden sides of the world she lives in.
Miss Carriger has a knack for creating characters that it is pleasant to spend time with. I found Sophronia to be a very enjoyable character to follow. She's smart, tough, resourceful, and not afraid to go her own ways when she feels it is called for. That doesn't mean she's perfect, but the flaws she has make her all the more realistic and relatable.
Sophronia is joined by quite a diverse group of supporting characters, most of which are more than interesting enough to follow in their own right. Although some of them exist to fulfil certain task in the narrative, they still come across as believable characters. And the whole cast of this novel put together makes for great company in your reading.
From early one it's clear that the story contains both action and mystery. Mostly we follow Sophronia's unravelling of what is actually going on, something that is handled very well,. The revelations come naturally, and that Sophronia is ignorant of what the school really is allows us discover it along with her instead of in infodumps. This makes the narrative flow more organically.
I have to make a brief mention of the setting, or more precisely, the school. I won't tell you what form it physically takes, because I thought that was a very nicely done revelation in the book. But I will tell you that I really liked the way the school functioned. It seems natural when you get it described in the way it is, despite of course being wholly fantastical in nature. Miss Carriger has really managed to create something that feels realistic while still being a wonderful Fantasy creation. In some ways the school itself becomes a character itself, and it has several layers to it.
So to sum up, another brilliant novel by Miss Carriger. A seamless blend of Steampunk, humour, and Victorian boarding school drama -with a good dollop of action, mystery, and adventure. Definitely a recommended read for those who like their Steampunk to have a sense of humour, and anyone who likes a good rollicking story. It is a great starting point for anyone not familiar with Miss Carriger's work.
Fans of Miss Carriger who have put off getting this because of the Young Adult label should head for the nearest bookstore at once (, or maybe wait until tomorrow if it's not open). This doesn't fall short in comparison to the Parasol Protectorate books in terms of depth (, although to be fair...there's a lack of werewolf sexing in it.)
After reading this book, I must say that the knowledge that there's three more books to come in this series is very welcome, this is the beginning of what looks to be another greatly enjoyable series from Miss Carriger.
REVIEWS: The Parasol Protectorate books