Friday, 22 February 2013

Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Etiquette and Espionage is the first book in Gail Carriger's newest series, the Finishing School books. As the series and title suggest, it's set mostly at a special kind of finishing school in Victorian era steampunkish Britain. It's the same world as Carriger's Parasol Protectorate books (which start with Souless and end with Timeless) but fifteen to twenty-ish years earlier. In no way do you have to have read any of Carriger's other works to enjoy this one, however. The blurb:
Sophronia Temminnick at 14 is a great trial more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners -- and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Her poor mother, desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady, enrolls the lively tomboy in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But 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.
It has intrigue, technology and delightfully humorous lines. Sophronia is clever and resourceful and a wonderful character to read about. I particularly liked the angle Carriger took where she's sent off to finishing school for acting too boyish and unladylike, but in the course of the book, she learns not only that her boyish interests can prove useful, but that there are also many uses for girlish things. Like full skirts to hide knives in or deceiving unsuspecting men with ladylike appearances. It's nice to not have dresses dismissed simply because they are feminine and dresses. (Of course, there's another opinion regarding dresses from a character we've grown to know and love from the Parasol Protectorate books.)

I thought the technological regression was done well. There was technology that hadn't yet reached the levels in the Parasol Protectorate books, but it was clear the direction it was heading. For example the dirigibles are much less advanced and can't yet go very quickly in Finishing School, although we know they're used for long-distance travel in Parasol Protectorate.

Because of Sophronia's age, this series is being classed as YA (whereas Parasol Protectorate involved marriage and children and hence was for adults). However, I see no reason for adult readers not to enjoy it. There is little stylistic difference between the two series, even if the characters are mostly nothing alike (apart from the few that appear in both, of course). Since Sophronia is only fourteen, on the younger side for YA, I suspect it would be a good book to use to hook in younger readers.

Etiquette and Espionage was a quick read, which was a bit disappointing because I didn't want it to end. I can't wait to read the next in the series, which I believe is due out in November. Let's hope the series continues to progress at a book every six months. I think I could live with that. In the mean time, I want a Bumbersnoot — Sophronia's adorable mechanical puppy pet.

New readers to Carriger's world will find Etiquette and Espionage a good place to start. Returning readers will find the world a little different to how they remember, but not too much. I highly recommend Carriger's work to fans of steampunk, Victorian Britain, socially accepted vampires and werewolves and witty lines.

5 / 5 stars

First published: February 2013, Hachette
Series: Finishing School Book the First (of ?)
Format read: ebook on iThings
Source: bought from iBooks

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