Curtsies and Conundrums: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carrigeretiquette&espionage

Published: February 5th, 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Source: purchased from Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: 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.

Sophronia Temminnick at 14 is a great trial more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners — and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Her poor mother, desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady, enrolls the lively tomboy in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But 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.

My thoughts: I’m a fan of Gail Carriger’s adult series The Parasol Protectorate series, which is set in this same world as The Finishing School series. It’s the only paranormal mystery/urban fantasy series that has come close to bringing me the delightfully fun reading experience that I’ve had with the Southern Vampire Mysteries (Sookie Stackhouse series). Carriger’s refreshing world-building, well developed characters, and distinct voice have made the Parasol Protectorate series one of my favorites, and I am very picky about my genre fiction. When I discovered Gail Carriger was writing a young adult series, I was pumped. I thought her voice was well-suited to a teen audience and that there were a lot of directions that she could take this world. Plus, the concept rocked! A finishing school that taught etiquette and espionage! My excitement could not be contained.

Maybe because I had such high expectations, I was disappointed.

This novel skews much younger than I would have anticipated, which is fine. I’ll recommend it to a lot of tween patrons who are ready for YA books. Personally, I would have enjoyed a much more mature storyline. To me, this just felt like a very watered down version of everything I had loved about the Parasol Protectorate series.

There was a lot of cute going on in this book—I mean, what’s not to love about a coal-powered metal dachshund? Flywaymen—like highwaymen, but you know, they fly in dirigibles rather than driving coaches drawn by horses—are very clever. The steampunk elements are light enough to not overwhelm the story but descriptive enough to give the reader a feel for the genre. The language wasn’t as antiquated as that Carriger employed in the Parasol Protectorate series, so despite the historical fantasy setting it is still accessible to younger readers.

Sophronia was a plucky girl, but we only saw the story from her perspective, so Etiquette & Espionage lacked the richness of the Parasol Protectorate books, where the third person narration followed around side characters and developed their subplots. The secondary characters here had little depth. Though it was fun to see the younger versions some of my favorite characters from the Parasol Protectorate series, I wanted more! A lot of the supporting cast felt like cliques–there was the ditzy sidekick obsessed with clothes and the older, mean girl nemesis, etc., etc.

While I think it’s great that there is young adult fiction that contains very little romance, I personally like at least a romantic subplot (but hate when in overwhelms the core conflict). Though there was a hint of a romance (and with a colored boy, at that!) it was too little for my taste.

This is a great series for fans of spy mysteries or young readers. Those who enjoyed Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls or Heist Society novels and are looking to try historical/steampunk should check this out.

Second opinions:

Megan at Book Brats: “With the right amount of mystery, action, and adventure, this is a teen novel I can recommend without thinking to anyone. It’s a fun, light and enjoyable read, filled with humor (boy’s school for evil geniuses anyone?) and just the right dash of potential romance snuck in.”

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6 thoughts on “Curtsies and Conundrums: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

  1. This does sound totally adorable. Flywaymen! Teehee! BUT I have so been there with overhyping a book to myself. That’s how I felt about For Darkness Shows the Stars. I know it was a great book, but it wasn’t everything I hoped it would be, so I think of it with disappointment, rather than flailing. It’s a shame.

    Good to know that it skews more towards middle grade. I like middle grade quite a bit, but I don’t want to pick up a YA book and find an MG, you know? Bad marketing team!

    1. Yeah, it’s almost borderline middle grade. I personally enjoy upper YA too, but love when I find books that are great for younger readers because these are the patrons that seek out help in choosing books more often.

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