Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger, pub. 2013, 307 pg.
Rating: 5/5 stars
As you probably know if you've read this blog in the past, I love Gail Carriger. Her books are witty and hilarious and incredibly interesting. Her first series, the Parasol Protectorate, follows a young woman named Alexia Tarabotti through steampunk Victorian London where civilized and courtly vampires and werewolves mingle with non-supernatural folk, and diabolical inventors create chaos.
Her new Finishing School series takes place 25 years prior to the Parasol Protectorate books. This new series follows Sophronia Temminick, a 14-year-old girl who has been selected as a covert recruit for Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing School for Young Ladies of Quality. While it appears to be a regular finishing school to the untrained eye, the academy specializes in teaching young ladies of promising backgrounds the necessary skills for a career in espionage.
There were so many things about this book that I absolutely loved that I'm not entirely sure where to start! Etiquette & Espionage had all of the steampunk and supernatural charm of the Parasol Protectorate series. I'd never read anything in the steampunk genre before I started reading Carriger's books, and I wasn't entirely sure if it was something I like, but I love her approach to it. I didn't feel like I was being hit over the head by a gimmick, which is what I was afraid of. Instead, Carriger works various mechanical and steam-powered aspects seamlessly into her books without being overwhelming.
I was also pretty sick of vampires and werewolves, but Carriger does a great job of making her supernatural characters quirky and entertaining and working their various abilities and qualities into the fashions and culture of her version of Victorian England. They definitely aren't traditional horror-story creatures, but they aren't the sparkly Twilight versions, either. Instead, Carriger's supernaturals are fresh and unique and full of humor.
Sophronia is a sassy and precocious teenager and an amazing character. She's smart and thinks quickly on her feet, doesn't judge other unnecessarily, and has a witty sense of humor. I kept forgetting that she was only 14 years old, but looking back, she acted entirely appropriately for her age. I love that. She wasn't overly sexy or too mature. Instead, she acted like a 14-year-old girl (albeit an exceptionally clever one). I think she'd be a great role model for young readers.
The plot was full of action, mystery, and humor with sprinkles of love thrown in for good measure. It was a delight to read, and I can't wait until the next installment comes out. Sophronia and her friends are not characters I ever want to forget.