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Gail Carriger – Etiquette & Espionage

July 12, 2013

51. Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (2013)
Finishing School, Book 1

Length: 308 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Historical/Steampunk Fantasy

Started: 01 July 2013
Finished: 03 July 2013

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I totally enjoyed Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate books, so a YA book set in the same universe seemed right up my alley.

In this finishing
school, covert ops are just as
important as poise.

Summary: Sophronia Temminnick knows she’s not a perfect daughter – she much prefers climbing and exploring to sitting politely and having tea – but she doesn’t think that she’s bad enough to be shipped off to finishing school. Nevertheless, she soon finds herself at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. But this school is nothing like what she’s expecting. First of all, it’s on board a series of giant airships, there are a vampire and a werewolf on the faculty, and they are just as likely to have classes in passing covert information during a ball and defending oneself with a fish fork and a hair ribbon as in eyelash batting and properly timing one’s faints. Sophronia takes to it quickly, but all is not well at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, and Sophronia can’t resist getting herself and her new friends involved in the intrigue.

Review: I had a lot of fun with this book. That’s not surprising, really; I found Carriger’s entire Parasol Protectorate series to be funny, entertaining, creative, and perhaps most importantly, easy to fall into. So the same author, writing in the same world (albeit 25 years earlier), for a younger audience… well, this book was just as quick and enjoyable of a read as I’d expected. Carriger’s got a flair for inventive worldbuilding, and it’s certainly on display here, with a good mix of historical and fantasy and steampunk elements, all put together with the added sillyness of everything being turned up to 11. (I mean, the protagonist’s name is Sophronia Angelica Temminnick, and she is maybe the most-reasonably-named out of the lot of ’em.) I loved the concept of a finishing school that is also teaching espionage, and how that lets Carriger play with the Victorian conventions of ladylike behavior – her characters alternately run up against them, and use them to their own ends. I liked that the central driving force of the book wasn’t romance; in fact, there’s little-to-no romance in the book at all, just a healthy and well-developed friendship (that will probably become more romantically motivated in the future). Plus, it’s a boarding school book (even if it’s literally boarding, as in on board giant airships) and I’ve never met a boarding school book I didn’t like[1].

There were two things, or maybe one and a half, that kept me from totally loving this book. The first is that while Carriger is generally quite good at worldbuilding, it seemed at times like she was relying on her readers to be familiar with her universe from the Parasol Protectorate books. (Which I was, but still.) I doubt that it would affect the understandability of the main plot line, but for a reader who is entering Carriger’s world for the first time, the werewolves and vampires show up pretty unexpectedly, without a lot of explanation of their habits and quirks and how they function in the world she’s built. The other thing that bugged me was that the book wrapped up pretty quickly after the climactic scene, without a lot of questions being answered. The climactic scene itself was great; I’ve got a soft spot for screwball comedy done well, and Carriger’s style of writing lends itself to “zany and overly dramatic adventure.” But while I realize that this is just the first book of a forthcoming series, and presumably my questions will be answered in future books, and while I furthermore realize that most of the point of this book was introducing the characters and the school (much like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, actually), there was still a sense of abruptness and incompleteness to the ending. “Well, we’ve chased this McGuffin around and now we’ve finally found it and it’s safe, so let’s send it away without figuring out what it is or does or why the bad guys want it, the end.” But, as I said, since I’m certainly going to be reading the next books in the series, a little incompleteness is not a fatal flaw in a book as otherwise enjoyable as this one was. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It reminded me quite a bit of Patricia C. Wrede’s work, particularly Sorcery and Cecelia, with the madcap ending of Mairelon the Magician thrown in for good measure. Recommended for fans of YA historical fantasy in general, and steampunk in particular.

[1]: That’s a lie. I’m looking at you, The Magicians.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Finding Wonderland, So Many Books So Little Time, Waking Brain Cells and tons more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Sophronia intended to pull the dumbwaiter up from the kitchen to outside the front parlor on the ground floor, where Mrs. Barnaclegoose was taking tea.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 121: “Thus all they had to select from was tea, bread and sweet butter, porridge, ham and broiled mushrooms, rabbit pie, fricandeau of eggs, mayonnaise of prawns, and spiced beef.” – A cut of veal that has been larded and braised.
  • p. 123: “There were also battledore and shuttlecock, tennis, croquet, pass the slipper, and wink-wink.” – An early form of badminton played with a flat wooden paddle and a shuttlecock.
  • p. 232: “Dimity’s warning came none too soon, for having finally given up on trying to send a message, Monique turned her unwelcome attention once more to being a plonker.” – a stupid person.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2013 3:37 pm

    I’m just not sure about steampunk.

    • July 13, 2013 3:07 pm

      Kathy – I hear you, and this might not be the best thing to get you started, because the steampunkiness is, like everything else, a little over the top.

  2. July 13, 2013 12:18 am

    I have this book on my to-get list and have been waiting anxiously for it to come out! I’ll have to check my library now too, fingers crossed. I read the first one in the Protectorate series and really enjoyed it – I’ve been meaning to read the others but now can’t find book 2 and I want to read them in order. This one looks like so much fun! I wonder if she did rush the ending? Thanks for a lovely review, yours is the first one I’ve seen. Hurray that it’s good!!

    • July 13, 2013 3:10 pm

      Susan – I took a leap on the Parasol Protectorate books when I found the first 3 on sale as an ebook bundle, and never regretted it. I hope you can get your hands on book 2!

  3. July 13, 2013 8:54 am

    I loved the Parasol Protectorate books too, so I am totally interested in this. I recently read a Libba Bray young adult “mystery” set in the 20s in which there was not heavy romance (but the promise of more) and I found that so refreshing for a YA book. YA romance can so often be over done emotionally. I am adding this to my must read list. I also have a bit of an obsession for steampunk, but for those who say they aren’t sure about it: It’s always been in literature (see Jules Vern), it’s just only recently gotten a name, so don’t let it scare you away.

    • July 15, 2013 10:11 am

      squee – What’s the Libba Bray book? A Great and Terrible Beauty, or does she have a new one I don’t know about?

      • July 16, 2013 6:00 pm

        It’s called “The Diviners” and its fairly new.
        If you don’t mind a little shameless self promotion, here’s my review of it:

        I think it’s catching onto the “Great Gatsby” frenzy of books coming out now that are set in the 20s.

      • July 20, 2013 9:54 pm

        Squee – Hmmm, I’m out of the loop, I hadn’t even heard about that (and I even follow Libba Bray on Twitter. Guess that shows you how often I check my twitter feed?) Looks interesting, though, and I haven’t read all that many books set in the ’20s (other than Gatsby itself, which I was pretty ambivalent towards.)

  4. July 13, 2013 10:12 am

    I have very rarely met a boarding school book I didn’t like, myself. And God knows I love the Patricia C Wrede books you mention — they’re the only ones of her adult books that I own now. The ending of Mairelon the Magician is just so wacky and delightful.

    • July 15, 2013 10:15 am

      Jenny – I was so delighted when I found out as an adult that she’d written things other than my beloved Dealing With Dragons books. I still have her Lyra novels on my TBR shelf… don’t know why I haven’t read them yet, other than possibly hoarding them for a reading slump?

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