By Gail Carriger
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
To Sum It Up: When Sophronia Temminnick’s mother decides that her daughter could benefit from more than a few lessons in refinement, Sophronia is sent off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Almost instantly, Sophronia learns that her new school interprets the meaning of “finishing” in an entirely different manner. Her studies include covert information gathering, poisoning, and weapons concealment, all of which she is expected to master along with perfecting her curtsy.
Review: I make zero effort to hide my enthusiasm for Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate novels, so it was a no-brainer for me to check out her YA Finishing School series. Etiquette and Espionage takes place before the Parasol Protectorate, but you absolutely do not need to have read the latter to enjoy the former. Fans of Carriger’s adult books, however, are sure to be thrilled by the connections that are made between the two series.
I love, love, love the Victorian steampunk-meets-paranormal world that I was introduced to in the Parasol Protectorate novels, and being able to return to it in Etiquette and Espionage was a pure joy. Plucky heroine Sophronia gets to attend a school that is on board an airship and has an adorable—and mechanical—pet dog named Bumbersnoot. Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality also boasts a vampire and a werewolf among its faculty. Add this obviously venerable educational institute to the list of fictional schools I wish I could attend (still waiting for owl post to deliver my Hogwarts letter, dammit!). I’d also have to find a way to sneak into Bunson and Lacroix’s Boys’ Polytechnique because it’s a school that trains evil geniuses. Seriously, this is the school’s specialty. It’s that kind of quirkiness, which is passed off so casually in Carriger’s novels, that makes me laugh my arse off and marvel at her creativity.
Off-the-wall character names are another staple of this universe, and I could barely suppress giggles over appellations such as Mrs. Barnaclegoose and Lord Dingleproops. I also had a hearty chuckle at Dimity and Pillover Plumleigh-Teignmott, although the Plumleigh-Teignmott siblings turn out to be quite steady allies of Sophronia’s, especially Dimity, a fellow student at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s. “Sophronia” isn’t exactly a run-of-the-mill name, either, but its uniqueness certainly suits its bearer. Even before her recruitment for Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, Sophronia isn’t the average fourteen-year-old Victorian young lady. Her super curious mind often leads to trouble, but that’s why she fits in perfectly at a school that teaches the fine art of espionage.
I’d seen a couple of reviews mention that this book felt a bit middle grade-ish, but I didn’t think so. I will say that it is a tad light on plot. Sophronia’s adventures sometimes seem episodic rather than part of a larger arc. In a different novel, this most likely would have bothered me, but I was too amused by the humor in Etiquette and Espionage to dwell on the thin plot details. This was a delight to read, and I can’t wait to carry on with the rest of the books in the series.
All in All: Gail Carriger works her magic yet again, this time kicking off a YA series with a very solid start!