Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Digital Audiobook narrated by Moira Quick
Published by Hachette Audio, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on February 5, 2013
Series: Finishing School #1
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Young Adult
Length: 307 pages or 8 hours, 55 minutes
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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.