Etiquette & Espionage: Charming YA steampunk adventure

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsEtiquette & Espionage by Gail CarrigerEtiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

When we meet 14-year-old Sophronia in the first scene of Etiquette & Espionage, she’s diving out of a runaway dumbwaiter after attempting to use it to spy on the mysterious woman sitting in her mother’s parlor. Despite Sophronia’s inglorious entry and introduction, the lady invites her to attend Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Sephronia does not want to be reformed, but she is sent nonetheless.

Fortunately for Sophronia (and unknown to her mother or to headmistress Mademoiselle Geraldine), this finishing school is highly unusual. Most noticeable is that it floats far above the ground in a fantastical dirigible. Second, it recruits students from the most evil families in the country (though Sophronia is a covert recruit). Most important is that while the ladies of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s are being properly and traditionally finished, they are also learning to finish others. To this aim, they are being trained in espionage, weaponry, technology, intelligence gathering, deceit, seduction, poisoning, and defense against werewolves and vampires. These girls are being prepared to catch a husband or assassinate an enemy; many of the same skills are required for both, after all.

Sophronia’s first clue that something is strange about her new school occurs when she and another new girl named Dimity are being transported by carriage to the place where they’ll meet the dirigible. On the way, some flyway-men attack and try to steal “the prototype” from Sophronia’s escort. From then on, Sophronia and Dimity are determined to discover what and where the prototype is and to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. They’ll get some help from the “sooties” in the boiler room, the boys from the evil genius school, and a mechanical pet dog.

Etiquette & Espionage is the first book in Gail Carriger’s FINISHING SCHOOL series which takes place in her PARASOL PROTECTORATE world (but you don’t need to be familiar with PARASOL PROTECTORATE). It’s a steampunk/paranormal blend that’s targeted to young adults but will be enjoyed by adults as well, especially since (even though it’s about boarding school) it lacks those overused YA paranormal clichés that make that genre so painful for some of us old folks to read. Instead of love triangles and mean-girl-cliques we have lessons in proper fainting, eye lash fluttering, and knife skills. The steampunk elements — dirigibles, automatons, goggles, levers and gears — are all familiar, but Carriger has fun with these, too, making them impossibly fantastical. Her villains are purposely recognizable and delightfully over-the-top. You can imagine her winking at her readers when she has the flyway-men demand “the prototype.”

I knew I was going to love Etiquette & Espionage from the very first paragraph in which Sophronia is shown to be curious, intelligent, resourceful and mischievous. She and Dimity make wonderfully spunky little heroines. I adored them and can’t wait to read more of their adventures in the next book, Curtsies & Conspiracies, which has just been released.

I listened to the audio version of Etiquette & Espionage which was produced by Hachette Audio and read by Moira Quirk who was so absolutely brilliantly perfect in every way that I looked her up at Audible so I could put her other books in my wishlist. Moira Quirk’s entertaining narration added to the value of this story and now I wouldn’t think of reading it in any other format.

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, 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.

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  1. Yes, Moira Quirk did a fabulous job will all of the different characters – keeping them separate and unique.

    And I can totally see Gail Carriger giving us all a wink and a nod throughout this story.

    I agree that it may be intended as YA, it is most definitely missing the angst as well as the love triangles and mean girls much to its favor.

  2. Since I’ve enjoyed the Parasol Protectorate books, I think this is something I’d like even if it is YA.

  3. Brad Hawley /

    I just listened to the first chapter with my twelve-year-old daughter. What a riot! I absolutely loved it! If the rest of the book stays that funny, I’ll enjoy it a great deal; however, I really think the narrator should get a large portion of the credit. I’m not sure I’d like it that much if I were reading it. It might be too much like reading a funny Monty Python script for one of their movies. Very funny, I’m sure, but just not the same.

    The only reason I gave it a chance is that I trust Kat when she says a narrator is worth listening to.

    • What did your daughter think, Brad?

      • Brad Hawley /

        She liked it a lot, but I think she’s not too interested in listening to books anymore with dad. She reads all the time, but when we are in the car together for trips to her doctor, she wants to listen to her music! She’s twelve-teen.

        So, she laughed frequently through that first chapter, but that was all I told her I’d “make” her listen to. That used to be enough to “hook” her. Not anymore! She wants her tunes!

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