When we meet 14-year-old Sophronia in the first scene of Etiquette & Espionage, she’s diving out of a runaway dumbwaiter after attempting to use it to spy on the mysterious woman sitting in her mother’s parlor. Despite Sophronia’s inglorious entry and introduction, the lady invites her to attend Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Sephronia does not want to be reformed, but she is sent nonetheless.
Fortunately for Sophronia (and unknown to her mother or to headmistress Mademoiselle Geraldine), this finishing school is highly unusual. Most noticeable is that it floats far above the ground in a fantastical dirigible. Second, it recruits students from the most evil families in the country (though Sophronia is a covert recruit). Most important is that while the ladies of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s are being properly and traditionally finished, they are also learning to finish others. To this aim, they are being trained in espionage, weaponry, technology, intelligence gathering, deceit, seduction, poisoning, and defense against werewolves and vampires. These girls are being prepared to catch a husband or assassinate an enemy; many of the same skills are required for both, after all.
Sophronia’s first clue that something is strange about her new school occurs when she and another new girl named Dimity are being transported by carriage to the place where they’ll meet the dirigible. On the way, some flyway-men attack and try to steal “the prototype” from Sophronia’s escort. From then on, Sophronia and Dimity are determined to discover what and where the prototype is and to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. They’ll get some help from the “sooties” in the boiler room, the boys from the evil genius school, and a mechanical pet dog.
Etiquette & Espionage is the first book in Gail Carriger’s FINISHING SCHOOL series which takes place in her PARASOL PROTECTORATE world (but you don’t need to be familiar with PARASOL PROTECTORATE). It’s a steampunk/paranormal blend that’s targeted to young adults but will be enjoyed by adults as well, especially since (even though it’s about boarding school) it lacks those overused YA paranormal clichés that make that genre so painful for some of us old folks to read. Instead of love triangles and mean-girl-cliques we have lessons in proper fainting, eye lash fluttering, and knife skills. The steampunk elements — dirigibles, automatons, goggles, levers and gears — are all familiar, but Carriger has fun with these, too, making them impossibly fantastical. Her villains are purposely recognizable and delightfully over-the-top. You can imagine her winking at her readers when she has the flyway-men demand “the prototype.”
I knew I was going to love Etiquette & Espionage from the very first paragraph in which Sophronia is shown to be curious, intelligent, resourceful and mischievous. She and Dimity make wonderfully spunky little heroines. I adored them and can’t wait to read more of their adventures in the next book, Curtsies & Conspiracies, which has just been released.
I listened to the audio version of Etiquette & Espionage which was produced by Hachette Audio and read by Moira Quirk who was so absolutely brilliantly perfect in every way that I looked her up at Audible so I could put her other books in my wishlist. Moira Quirk’s entertaining narration added to the value of this story and now I wouldn’t think of reading it in any other format.