Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger
Source: Bought paperback and audiobook
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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. Temminick 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 they 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 Carriger's legions of fans have come to adore.
This was clever, intricate, and very humourous. It way exceeded all my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed Gail Carriger's other series- the Parasol Protectorate series- and this series is a similar version of that but aimed at younger readers.
Etiquette and Espionage reminded me a little of the first Harry Potter book- in the same sense of the fabulous world- building, the characterisation, and that excitement of being at a magical school full of possibilities, and learning these strange and fabulous subjects. It is funny and great fun, and there is that expectant feeling that anything can happen. This book oozes with possibilities for the rest of the series.
Steampunk settings are so cool anyway, but this felt really fantastical, with a floating school, mechanical creatures as pets, werewolf teachers wearing top hats, and a general sense of a much wider political plot. There is that feeling that you are only beginning to scratch the surface of a wider world, and a bigger story. There is a big mystery to solve and the cunning and skill of the first year students is way underestimated by the teachers!
Sophronia as a leading character is adorable. Despite her mother attempting to raise her as a typical Victorian lady, Sophronia is in no way annoying or feeble, but I love her bright, inquisitive, and tomboy-ish characteristics. She is not too stuck-up to make friends and allies anywhere she finds them- even the boiler room of the school/ ship, and her keen eye for observation always picks up on the little details.
One of my favourite aspects of the book is Sophronia's developing friendship with Soap from the boiler room, and her sneaking around to see him. He is quite obviously smitten with her, and I think this will develop as the series goes on (I hope!), as he is very sweet. There is no real romance story in this book (which is fair enough as the MC is only 14), but I like the possibility that the seeds have been planted.
With plots and schemes afoot at the school, the first-years use their cunning and sneakiness to find out secrets, discover hidden sections of the school and ways to manipulate their teachers and sneak about undetected. It is fabulous that even when they are under attack by flywaymen whilst travelling, they use all the resources available to them to formulate a plan of escape- even if it is only a handkerchief! Sophronia is usually somewhere she shouldn't be, but manages to climb up walls and through pipes to avoid being found out. If that fails she could always use her newly learned skill of eyelash fluttering!
I love the goofy overdone style of writing as well- all the pomp and pretension of Victorian society is charicaturised in the language, and also in the daft names everybody is given- Bumbersnoot, Mrs Barnaclegoose etc. It gives it a very whimical mock-formal tone and you can't help but smirk as you read it.
This book is great- magical and full of adventure. So funny in parts- but always smart and endearing, I just loved this book, and am looking forward to seeing what kinds of trouble Sophronia and her friends can get up to in their second year at the school!