Saturday, May 4, 2013

Book Review: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Etiquette & Espionage
Author: Gail Carriger
Publication: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (February 5, 2013)

Description: 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.

My Thoughts: While I am certain that there was a plot in the book somewhere, it was almost completely obscured by the wonderful world building, enchanting characters and the complex details of this society. Sophronia Temminick is the youngest daughter of a large family who is unable or unwilling to fit into the proper mode for young ladies. Her mother has reached her wit's end with regard to Sophronia and has decided to send her to a finishing school on the recommendation of her friend Mrs. Barnaclegoose. 

Sophronia is not eager to be "finished" and doesn't look forward to her time at Madmoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. However, her interest is caught when the carriage she is riding in to the school is attacked by flywaymen riding in airdinghys. It seems that "Mademoiselle Geraldine" is really a senior student on her finishing assignment who has somehow managed to acquire a prototype that all sorts of parties would like to have for themselves.

After arriving at the school and learning that it is a grouping of airships that float over Dartmoor and learning that the school turns out intelligencers, assassins, and other covert operators. Among the curriculum offerings are budgeting for a dinner party and preparing poisons; flirting, lying, and acting; self-defense using their handkerchiefs and vinaigrettes. The teachers are an interesting assortment of characters including a vampire who teaches history, etiquette, and vampire lore and a werewolf who also teaches defense against werewolves.

The students are also an interesting assortment of characters. Sophronia's best friend is Dimity who comes from a family that has attended this finishing school for generations and who also has a brother attending the companion school for boys whose mission is to turn out evil geniuses. The fake "Mademoiselle Geraldine" -- really Monique de Pelouse -- becomes Sophronia's nemesis because Sophronia outshone her when the flywaymen attacked and, as a consequence, she failed her finishing assignment and was demoted back to Sophronia's class. Other classmates are Sidheag Maccon, Lady Kildair, and Agatha. But Sophronia also is befriended by an assortment of "Sooties" -- the young lower-class boys who keep the engines running and a young nine-year-old character named Vieve who is a female inventor who prefers to dress as a boy. Her best friend among the Sooties is Soap.

I was particularly fond of the steampunk elements in this story especially Sophronia's little dog Bumbersnoot who needs to be fed coal to keep his internal steam engine running and who plays a pivotal role in the resolution of the plot. I was also fond of Carriger's humor which was outrageous and just this side of too cute.

I think that this story will appeal most to middle graders and young adults who are already interested in steampunk and those who enjoy humor in their stories. 

Favorite Quote:
Bumbersnoot had a long, sausagelike body, and while he was mostly bronze, it was clear he had some brass and iron parts, so that he was rather a patchwork. Fond of him though she was, "little beauty" was not a phrase Sophronia would have used to describe him. "If you say so."
I bought this book. You can buy your copy here.


  1. I am not sure what to think about this book. It does seem geared more for younger readers, but I was intrigued by the espionage aspects of it.

  2. I plan on reading this soon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)


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