fantasy and science fiction book reviewsCurtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger YA fantasy book reviewsCurtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Such games we play…. As if I didn’t have to hedge and speak in code most of the time, I must now do it as part of regular social interactions. No wonder Mademoiselle Geraldine’s has such success training the female aristocracy to be intelligencers. It’s most of our life already. ~Miss Sophronia Temminnick

The intrepid girls of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality have returned in another completely charming YA adventure! After having possibly saved the world quite recently, the girls are back in school learning how to dance, do household accounting, speak demurely, faint properly, flutter their eyelashes, and assassinate people at the dinner table. Sophronia, our protagonist, isn’t quite sure why she’s learning these things or who she’ll be working for — all she knows is that she’s having fun and she does not want to be sent home.

That is, until she makes the highest grade on the exam and invokes the jealousy of her classmates. Now she’s being ostracized, even by her best friend Dimity. What makes it worse is that Sophronia suspects there are evil plots and conspiracies afoot — they involve the werewolves and vampires and the first transcontinental airship flight through the ether. Oh, and of course, the mysterious “prototype.” While her friends aren’t talking to her, it seems that Sophronia will have to save the world without their aid. Fortunately, she has an arsenal of new skills, and she can always get some help from the sooties in the boiler room.

As was its predecessor (Etiquette & Espionage), this second book in Gail Carriger’s FINISHING SCHOOL series is a fun blend of steampunk, mannerpunk, and paranormal fantasy aimed at young adults but certain to be enjoyed by any age. The characters are endearing, the setting is delightfully fantastical (a series of connected airships), and the premise is hilarious (young ladies at a finishing school training to be assassins!). The fast-moving plot eventually becomes just absurd enough to be slightly madcap without going over the top — Carriger hits this balance perfectly. There’s a very minor style issue with Carriger’s occasional inconsistency with the narrative voice, but this is easily dismissed, especially since there’s an underlying sense of “isn’t this silly?” to the whole thing. These stories are adorable (I hate to use that word in a review, but it’s really what I think) and probably the most purely entertaining books I’ve read all year.

If you haven’t yet read Etiquette & Espionage, I highly recommend that you do before moving on to Curtsies & Conspiracies. If you’re an audio reader, you simply MUST MUST MUST try the audio versions (Hachette Audio) narrated by the brilliant British actress Moira Quirk. Her wonderful character voices and perfect interpretation of Carriger’s subtle humor makes Curtsies & Conspiracies even more entertaining than it is in print. It’s an audio treat, and one of the few audiobooks that I know I’ll listen to again. If you’re not an audio reader yet, this is a very good place to become converted.

Finishing School — (2013-2015) Young adult. Publisher: 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.

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  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.