Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Reading level: Young adult
Trade paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release date: February 5, 2013
Series: Finishing School #1
Source: Personal shelf
Reviewed by: Jenn
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 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 the 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.
Set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, this YA series debut is filled with all the saucy adventure and droll humor Gail’s legions of fans have come to adore.
“No one said learning etiquette and espionage would be easy, my dear.”
– Lady Linette (p. 128)
As the first book in Gail Carriger’s new young adult Finishing School series, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I adore Carriger’s adult Parasol Protectorate books with a most unladylike passion and so I had high hopes for ETIQUTTE & ESPIONAGE, even though I have a mixed relationship with YA books. Thankfully, just like one of my other favourite authors, Jennifer Estep, Carriger makes a seamless transition to young adult and ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE is just as delightful as any of the Parasol Protectorate books. In fact, in some ways, I was even more tickled by ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE because fans of the adult series get glimpses of some familiar characters and all readers, old and new, get to meet the irrepressible Sophronia Angelina Temminnick, our fearless fourteen-year-old protagonist. I loved Soprhonia from the moment she stepped onto the page (and into the dumbwaiter) and I’m really looking forward to following her through her Finishing School adventures.
As always in a Carriger novel, the writing is top-notch. The narration is witty, in keeping with the period, and utterly delightful. The story is tightly paced and plotted and will satisfy readers young and not-so-young, since it’s smart but not so complex that it would scare off the target audience. My biggest complaint about YA books generally is that I find the plots too simplistic for an adult reader and I was pleased as punch to discover that ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE was just as satisfying as Carriger’s other works.
As an aside, the marketing team for Little, Brown has created all sorts of neat images on the series website, including some with quotations from ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE, like the one above. I’d strongly urge you to check out the website since it will give you a really good feel for the book and the world of the Parasol Protectorate.
Getting back to things, however, we need to talk about Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. It’s a finishing school like no other since it teaches all of the techniques necessary to be a successful intelligencer or assassin. Most of the students come from families that know about the true nature of Miss Geraldine’s school but Sophronia is a covert recruit, so she doesn’t realize how different this school is. Her first clues: the school floats thanks to some fancy technology and her ride to school was more than a little unorthodox. It’s a great setting because there are lots of opportunities to showcase amazing steampunk gadgetry and because we get to meet a wonderful cast of characters. Carriger has assembled a motley crew for Sophronia, consisting of Dimity, a lovely young lady who faints at the sight of blood; Soap, a sootie from the bottom of the ship that befriends Sophronia; Sidheag Maccon, a familiar name for fans of the Parasol Protectorate; and, of course, dear Bumbersnoot, the mechanimal that Sophronia finds and adopts. All of the characters have their own voices and quirks and I can’t wait to spend more time with them. There are some other familiar faces but I don’t want to ruin the surprise so I’ll let you discover which Parasol Protectorate characters make an appearance in the Finishing School series. I will say that it’s great fun since we get to see them in their younger days, since the Finishing School books are set slightly earlier than the Parasol Protectorate.
ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE is a fantastic YA debut for Carriger and it more than meets the high standards I have, based on the wonder that is the Parasol Protectorate. I’m so happy that this is the beginning of a series because I’m sure there are bigger and better things ahead for Sophronia and her friends. I can’t wait to see what happens next, in CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES!