Friday Review: Etiquette and Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School, #1)Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sophronia Temminnick is a problem. She is what we would call a tomboy, certainly not proper behavior for a young lady of class in the Victorian world of manners and social class. But Sophronia really doesn’t care. She much prefers climbing, investigating how things work, and generally behaving in a most unladylike manner. Desperate since Sophronia’s older sister’s coming out ball is approaching, Mrs. Temminnick enrolls Sophronia in Madame Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. On the way to the school, Sophronia, Madame Geraldine, and another new student and her brother are beset by flywaymen, who demand they turn over the “prototype.” They manage to get out of the predicament unscathed, but on arriving at the school, Sophronia soon learns that this is no ordinary finishing school. Along with etiquette, dress, dancing, and other things young ladies must learn, these girls are being taught espionage. It soon becomes apparent that there is a traitor among the students, possibly one among the teachers, and the prototype is valuable enough that the flywaymen and their employers are willing to do whatever it takes to get their hands on it. Can Sophronia and her unlikely group of friends unravel the mystery? Will they be able to find the prototype before it falls into the wrong hands? Will Sophronia ever master a proper curtsy?

I enjoy Carriger’s books, from her Soulless series to the Custard Protocol stories, and now the Finishing School set. They are, I suppose, technically steampunk fantasy. They have steam-powered airships, mechanical servants, and many other trappings that make up the steampunk genre. Carriger refers to them as Comedies of Manners, and I think that term truly fits these books. They rely on exaggerating the outdated manners and social consciousness of the Victorian era for their humor. Many people think they are a bit too much, and I can understand that. There are books of the same sort (not necessarily steampunk) that are more subtle in their humor. I rather like the silliness of these. They are just fun, light reads.

Carriger knows the era she writes in and that gives the stories a genuine feel in setting and atmosphere. The social classes are distinctive, and the demand for propriety in dress, manner, and public appearance is exploited from a perspective that knows what it was really like. Characters are likable (or not, as the case may be), and each has his or her own little quirks and habits. Even with the sometimes overstated humor, they come across as real people. The stories are told from a female perspective so there is a lot of talk about dresses, fabrics, petticoats, parasols, and other fripperies, but the main mystery is never lost in all the fashion troubles, nor is it trivialized and pushed to the background. Pacing is quick and sharp, making these nice, quick reads (0r listens).

The narration of the audiobook is done by Moira Quirk and suits the tone of the book well. Characters are voiced well, and the reading is clear.

Etiquette and Espionage is a fun book, combining steampunk trappings with broad humor and a nice little mystery. It’s a quick, light read that might fit well with a summer vacation.

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