Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Posted May 14, 2018 by Amber in Reviews / 12 Comments

Etiquette & Espionage

Etiquette & Espionage

by Gail Carringer

Series: Finishing School #1
Publisher: Little Brown and Company on February 5, 2013
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Steampunk
Target Age Group: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★½

Check out this book on 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. 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 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.


I typically don’t like steampunk novels.  I really want to, but I’ve never connected with them.  There’s always been far too much cheesy romance and swooning and belittling of women.  I almost removed this from my TBR when I reached it.

Then, I took a deep breath, and borrowed the book from Overdrive.

So glad I did.

This one was a delight.  That’s the absolute best word that I can conjure.  Etiquette & Espionage is everything I wanted from a steampunk fantasy.  On the surface, we have a coming-of-age tale with airships and female friendships and getting into just the right amount of trouble.  Beneath the surface, we have discussions of loyalty and race and greed.  I quite liked it all, I really did.  I thought it was clever and well-executed, and I liked every single one of the characters, which doesn’t happen very often.

Sophronia is a positive mess of a child in a world where things like dignity and posture are terribly important.  She enjoys climbing things, and at the very beginning of the book even manages to dump a trifle upon a respectable lady’s head!  Naturally, this is completely unacceptable, and she is carted away to finishing school.

It’s a tiresome inconvenience, but once Sophronia arrives, she is delighted to see that the school was not what she expected.  There’s a werewolf in a top hat, a mechanical daschund that is positively contraband, and none of the ladies are quite as ladylike as she would have supposed.  Not to mentioned the second agenda of the school.

What I particularly enjoyed about Sophronia was that she grew.  Everything she found staunchly unimportant at the beginning of the book had meaning at the end.  She did not go through a transformation as much as she stretched out a bit better to fit in her own skin (literally and figuratively).  She did not wildly change her convictions, the way some heroines do.  She was not too good, which made her feel more textured.  She also wasn’t a complete rebel… she just does as she pleases.  The lack of conviction and natural progression was just really nice in a genre that tends to be overly dramatic.

I absolutely recommend this book for anyone looking for a little light reading.  The main character is 14, but this reads with greater depth and would be more suited to a YA audience (although the older MGs would like it, too.). As an adult, I still thought it delightful.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★
Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★
Narrator: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★ 1/2

4.5 stars overall rating


Have you read this book or anything by this author?  If so, did you enjoy it?  Tell me all about your experience in the comments!

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12 responses to “Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

    • Amber

      Captain Niles! He doesn’t have a huuuge role in this one, but he’s fun. 🙂

      Also, good to note, the girls in the book are not as old as the girl on the cover. I *think* judging by decor and scissors that may be Dimity on the cover? Not nearly disheveled enough for Sephronia.

  1. Hahaha, I read this book when I was a bit younger and was sort of bored, but… I think I was a bit too young to get any of the beneath the surface stuff, and a bit too old to appreciate the story on it’s surface level… I might need to give it another try sometime though… Like, I didn’t hate it or anything, sooo… I think I might appreciate it more now.

    • Amber

      This one really feels like it hits at an odd age group? The characters don’t quite act their age, and all the various age groups (Monique vs. Sephronia vs. Vieve, for example) all act similar? It’s definitely not a masterpiece, but I had fun with it. 🙂 If you feel like you weren’t really into it, a revisit maaaay not help. 🙂

        • Amber

          Well at least sleep on it! I don’t want to trick you into an 8 hour read you won’t like! XD

          • Hahaha, yeah… I just might pick it up next time none of my holds are in at the library or something… I didn’t dislike it or anything, so I might revisit it next time I’m bored and looking for something to read is all… And if I read it in print form it probably won’t take me eight hours 😀

  2. Ahhh you made me remember why I loved this series so much! I still haven’t the read the final book, because for some reason I just lost interest in it? We don’t have a great library here (plus it costs money so I’m not a member) so I have to basically buy all my books, which means I have to pick and choose. Other books were just higher on my priority list, but I do want to finish this series one day!
    Also this is a prequel series (though written after) to The Parasol Protectorate, an adult series, which is just as delightful 🙂 At least that’s how I felt about it years ago haha

    • Amber

      I’ve heard that the Parasol Protectorate is great – that’s on my TBR as well! It just happened that this one popped up as available first! 🙂

      I buy most my books – we have a great library, and free, and only open the hours while I am working in a completely different city. *facepalm* Thank goodness for Overdrive, which lets me borrow stuff. You’ve really got to watch out for thrift stores and deals… things like ThriftBooks and BookBub. 😀