Saturday, January 31, 2015

Book Review: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger


Well, it looks like the incident with the dumbwaiter and the trifle was the last straw. Sophronia's parents have decided to send her off to finishing school. She's supposed to become a proper lady like her older sisters. Curtsies, handkerchiefs, hair ribbons... Sophronia doesn't have anything against all those things, really, but there's too much adventure in the world for her to get caught up in the dainties.

Now, she has no choice but to go to school. Luckily for her, there's plenty of adventure to be had at Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. After all, Mademoiselle Geraldine's school is in an airship. One of her Sophronia's teachers is a vampire. Another one is a werewolf who will teach combat. And while learning the quadrille, Sophronia and her classmates are encouraged to pass secret notes to one another without being seen.

After all, how else are all these young ladies going to learn how to be spies?

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

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 the 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.


We all know that the Victorian era was full of fine culture and high society. Etiquette and Espionage has taken this world and expanded on it, making it an exciting place and time of creation and science. This is fine steampunk, for those interested in the genre. Most importantly, it is true to the Victorian ideals of the time. Carriger has clearly done her research in making the foundation of the world her characters live in. It’s not so foreign that the culture makes no sense to us living in the 21st century, but it’s just far enough off to make things intriguing. Little tidbits of the things Sophronia learns at finishing school seem completely unnecessary or prudish to us, but it’s what’s expected of her. There’s a beautiful culture gap in time here that is bridged flawlessly with Carriger’s amazing characters.


Carriger clearly knows what she’s doing in her writing. It’s clear and concise, and personally, I didn’t feel that she at all simplifies what she’s putting down on paper. This is intended for young adult readers. I immensely enjoyed it. I mean… I can see this series joining the Harry Potter series as being one of my favorite YA series. Everything makes sense in itself and in the world, there are surprises and satisfying conversations, rivals, friends, and an amazing school that captured my imagination right away. The variety of places and characters, from soldier werewolf to engine room worker to lady/spy-in-training is truly fascinating, and that’s just scratching the surface. There are plenty of little surprises in character, plot, and setting that makes for a lush experience.

My Thoughts

I can’t rave enough about this book. I’d heard about it, and it blew my expectations out of the water. From the beginning (the trifle incident) to the very end, I was hooked. This is a wonderful introduction to steampunk for younger readers, and Sophronia and her schoolmates (and other friends who aren’t her classmates) make a great team that I think young adults of all ages can get attached to. Just the concept of fine young ladies learning to become spies along with learning manners and fashion is spectacular. Add in the boys’ school (for evil geniuses) and you’ve got a subculture for a world that is already interesting. This is a brilliant combination of history and near-irreverence. Even the humor fits in with the period, but it tickled me in some of the most wonderful ways. This whole work was masterfully done. It is a whole.

Would I Recommend This Book? Highly. If you’re looking for something for your young adult to read, or just looking for something fun for yourself, this is a great pick. I cannot wait to read the others in the series. I give Etiquette and Espionage a secretive 5 out of 5 stars.

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