|14 year old Sophronia Temminnick is an adventurous girl who
likes to tinker with mechanical items to figure out how they work. It is not the done
thing in 1851 England for a girl, not even in the steampunk world of Gail Carriger. To
address this, her mother sends her off to Madame Geraldines Finishing School to
learn how to behave like a lady.
The finishing school turns out to be a cover for a spy
school for well-to-do young ladies. It is unlike any finishing school you have ever read
of, complete with steampunk mechanisms. The book is a very good general introduction for
teen readers into the steampunk genre, but more so for girls than boys, because most of
the characters are girls, with a few boys. However, there is no romance and only minor
flirting of the eye-lash fluttering kind, so it is quite possible boys will like it too.
Etiquette & Espionage, Book 1 of the Finishing School
series is an introductory story to a new YA (Young Adult) series set approximately 21
years before the events in the Parasol Protectorate. Ms Carriger created this
world for her grown-up Parasol Protectorate series featuring an alternate history
steampunk Victorian England, with its combination of comedy and fantasy. Vampires and
werewolves have integrated with civilised society in this England and are very much out in
the open, to the point where this aspect is no longer part of the traditional horror
I found the first 1/3 of this book has some pacing issues due to some things needing to
be put out there for the reader, but from the middle third onwards it is a very engaging
read. Sophronia and her new friends need to retrieve a prototype that got lost while she
was on her way to her new school. Over the course of the school year she makes new friends
and explores her new school, as well as investigating a few things related to this missing
piece of new technology.
I liked this book for its cheerfulness and its comedy. Sophronia has 2 parents and
plenty of siblings, of which she is neither the oldest nor youngest. The only issue in the
Temminnick household is that Sophronia doesnt behave like a proper Victorian girl,
in a way that makes her a credible steampunk leading character. The book truly is a
different setup to most YA fiction and I welcome the change. Etiquette &
Espionage is also a stand-alone story. You dont need to read any other
book to get an overview.
This book can be read and happily enjoyed by adult readers too. For the established
fans, it is rather exciting to spot a younger version of a character you have already
meet, or the beginnings of what is to become established steampunk technology. Id
love to read and find out what Sophronia and her friends get up to next in Curtsies
& Conspiracies, due out in November 2013.
- June Young
I have no idea whether Queen Victoria would have found the opening scenes of Etiquette
& Espionage amusing, but I can assume you that I was most entertained.
In fact, I can assure you that the whole novel was quite diverting. Though it must be said
that the earlier chapters were stronger than the conclusion, which seemed a little
contrived, and thus was not entirely satisfying.
Set in 1851, about forty years prior to Soulless, it is the
story of the decidedly rough around the edges Sophronia Temminnick and her first year at
Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
"Finishing" in more than one sense of the word, since the curriculum includes
skills that have less to do with assignations and more to with assassinations
although a lady would never be so crass as to do such a thing in public. The plot is
centred on a stolen device, and the attempts of various parties to conceal it, to copy it,
or to capture it.
Carriger adds some novel elements to her world there are flywaymen, who attack
carriages and other conveyances using small airships. The school itself is quite
extraordinary but I wont spoil that for you. (Though I do feel compelled to
point out that airships werent even invented until 1852 in our reality and
that steam-powered dirigible carried only one person, a Frenchman named Henri Giffard).
This is not simply, as some have stated, a steampunk version of Harry Potter. I suspect
its roots lie deeper than that, in those interminable series of childrens books set
in boarding schools that I can remember from my childhood (such as the Chalet School and
Jennings). And, in fact, that suggests that the cover art, which is screaming
"YA", is misleading, and it is. This is a book I would happily give to young
girls of ten to twelve years, knowing theyd enjoy it immensely. After all, the
heroine is only fourteen. This is a tween novel not that it cant be enjoyed
by teens or adults, but unlike Carrigers earlier steampunk novels the whole tone is
light, and just a bit fluffy
. cream puff literature, fun, beautifully crafted in its
details, but not at all challenging.
- Jacqui Smith