2014 · 4 stars · sci-fi/fantasy · ya

Steampunk + Teen Assassins? YES PLEASE.

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger
Pub. Date: February 5, 2013
Source: Library
Summary: 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.
Genre: YA, Steampunk, Humor
Recommended for: Readers looking for a fun, fast-paced story with great characters, a fascinating world, and a witty running commentary

Sophronia Temminnick is nothing like her older sisters. Rather than swooning over dashing young men and building wardrobes full of the latest fashions, Sophronia prefers to spend her time playing with gadgets, dismantling the pieces to see how the mechanicals work. In a last-ditch attempt to transform her daughter into a proper lady, Mrs. Temminnick enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. There she will learn to curtsy, faint and blush on cue, and all the ins-and-outs of flirting.

What Mrs. Temminnick doesn’t know, however, is that this finishing school takes their role literally. While the girls are indeed trained on which fork to use for which meal, they also learn all there is to know about poisons, weaponry, and intelligence-gathering. Throw in a few professors who aren’t exactly human and passing marks for evildoing and you’ve got the makings of one very interesting school year. And did I mention the school is actually a floating dirigible? Before you can learn the proper way to poison your enemy’s tea, you first have to find the school.

You know those books that take you by surprise? The books that suck you in and you’re halfway through the story before you realize what has happened? Etiquette & Espionage was one of those books. While I went in expecting a fun and entertaining read, I was totally caught off guard by how much I was enjoying it! Queen Victoria’s Steampunk empire, mechanical servants and household staff (AND animals!), vampires, a school for spies. Yeah I was NOT prepared for that one bit and I fell hard.

Sophronia’s snide remarks actually made me laugh out loud numerous times (scaring my poor pooch – sorry pup!). The best part though? She wasn’t the only fantastic character! Every single character in this novel, from the resident Mean Girl Monique to Professor Braithwope (a vampire with impeccable facial hair) to Vieve (a charming 10-year-old who is a genius with mechanics and prefers to dress as a boy), was deliciously crafted and fleshed-out. Everyone was given a distinct personality and voice rather than stock traits. Even Bumbersnoot, an illegally-obtained mechanical dog, worked his way into my heart.

Etiquette & Espionage had a very first-in-a-series feel; the actual plot took a backseat to world building and character introduction, but if that meant more time with Soap (a devilishly smooth boy who works down in the boiler room shoveling coal) I was totally okay with it! Really though, this was my introduction to Carriger’s works (finally, after years of customers asking about her Parasol Protectorate series!) and I’m a little disappointed nobody pushed this book (or any of her novels) on me already! While reading I had wondered if, given what little I know of her other series, if the two were possibly set in the same world. After reading some summaries on GoodReads it appears they are and I’m even more interested in reading her work! Etiquette & Espionage was an insanely fun start to a fantastic series – you better believe I’m reading the rest!

Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School #2) by Gail Carriger
Pub. Date: November 5, 2013
Source: Library
Summary: Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests? Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests?

Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy–won’t Mumsy be surprised? Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners.

Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot–one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot-and survive the London Season with a full dance card.
Genre: YA, Steampunk, Humor
Recommended for: Fans of Etiquette & Espionage, readers who are looking for an interesting new spin on the boarding school trope

Guys, let’s be real here – I never binge on series. Oh sure, I might be inclined to pick up a sequel a few months down the road, but immediately after? Never. Until Gail Carriger came along. I loved Etiquette & Espionage so much I needed to jump right into Curtsies & Conspiracies – and I was NOT disappointed!

Curtsies & Conspiracies takes place shortly after Etiquette & Espionage ended. Sophronia is now fifteen and well on her way to becoming a master intelligencer. In fact, her marks imply she’s doing too well and she’s convinced she’s being set up. Unfortunately, with all of her friends snubbing her, Sophronia has no one to discuss this with. When it’s announced Bunson’s, the boys’ school, will be sending their best students aboard AND the school will be departing for London, Sophronia’s convinced something’s going on and she’s determined to get to the bottom of it.

All my favorites (and not-so-favorites) from the first novel are back as well as some new characters I’m loving! Felix Mersey, a viscount who’s too charming for his own good, has his heart set on Sophronia and their interactions were an absolute delight! Although I’m still rooting for my boy Soap (I’m a total sucker for the rich/poor romance trope), Felix isn’t too shabby either. As for Sophronia, she’s completely clueless when it comes to advances (my dear Soap) or too confused (Lord Mersey) to make heads or tails of the situation. Clearly this love triangle is going to be in it for the long haul and I have to admit I’m enjoying both boys immensely!

In the first novel there was talk of a top secret valve that was stolen and that plot point has return, but I’ll be honest – I still have no idea what any of it means. I didn’t quite understand it in Etiquette & Espionage and I’m still not getting it now. Exactly what makes this valve so special?? Does it have something to do with the vampire/werewolf war? Did I completely skip a paragraph somewhere?

There’s a big to-do in London. Half of the school will be attending Monique’s coming out ball (does this mean she won’t be back in the third book now that she’s done with school?) while the other half – aka the teachers – are concocting their own schemes. My sweet Professor Braithwope is a rove vampire and this novel delves deeper into what exactly that means. Depending on a vampire’s rank they’re able to roam so far (interestingly enough, the higher the rank, the shorter their tether). Professor Braithwope is tethered to the school and, since it’s a dirigible, he’s able to move much farther than other vampires. That said, there’s a new technology that’s still in its testing phases that could potentially render tethers obsolete? (Unless I completely misunderstood the schematics.)

While I’m still not entirely sure just what’s going on here, I’m having an absolute blast with these books. The humor is brilliant (and the names! Professor Shrimpdittle! Lord Dingleproops!) and I’ve found myself giggling like crazy over entire passages. I’m a tiny bit worried I’ll continue to be lost with the plot in the third book (I have a feeling that if I’ve not gotten it already there’s a good chance I won’t), but I’m looking forward to getting back to these characters and their late-night snooping.

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