Book One of the Finishing School Series
By: Gail Carriger
Date Finished: 10.14.13
Do you mean to traumatize me with riddles first thing in the morning? If so, I should warn you, I’d consider that grounds for rescinding all offers of friendship.
In the pursuit of leaving no secret uncovered and much to her mother’s dismay, Sophronia constantly gets into one scrape after another. At last her mother reaches the end of her patience and gives her up to finishing school. Sophronia is horrified, dreading the tedious hours of etiquette lessons, but quickly discovers this is no ordinary finishing school. Here they learn how to curtsy properly, how to dance, and how to entertain guests, yes, but they also learn how to deceive, how to manipulate, and an alarming number of ways to administer poison. In the politest ways, of course.
From first glance, I thought this was an 1800s version of the Gallagher Girl novels by Ally Carter (I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You and others– follows a teenage girl attending a spy training program posing as an all-girls prep school.)
But, wait, there’s more!
Right away, it’s obvious that Etiquette & Espionage is also a Steampunk novel. I’m comfortable with that. Then, out of the blue, we’re told that vampires and werewolves exist as recognized members of society… Riiiight. As it turns out, the vampire and werewolf characters are less distracting than the unreasonably grandiose names. I ended up calling our main girl ‘Sophie’ because I didn’t want to sound it out every time. Some other gems among the character names — Bumblesnoot, Frowbritcher, Mrs. Barnaclegoose, Lord Dingleproops — and did I mention Sophronia’s last name is Temminick? And let’s not forget the eye-roll-inducing titles invented for this world: Flywaymen? Better watch out! Mechanimals? Oh, the horror!
I’m making fun of the book, but it’s actually quite enjoyable. There’s a lot of absurdity that you just have to acknowledge and then accept, but if you expect fluff, you’ll be just fine. Despite the ever-present ridiculousness, this is not a cookie-cutter story. Sophie is a fun lead who brings her own energy to the spunky heroine archetype. While she’s vivacious and smart, she still has a lot to learn at her finishing school and isn’t automatically a natural at everything by virtue of being the main character. She makes some instant connections with her best friends, but has to work rather hard for her other friendships and is never a teacher’s pet. These are small things, but it’s refreshing to see her earn the respect that’s given to her.
It’s not superlative writing, but it’s smart enough to hold your interest and lighthearted enough to be fun. I would definitely recommend this book as an escape from a stressful week.
At the end of the day: For me.