Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Title: Etiquette and Espionage
Author: Gail Carriger
Pages: 307
Series: Finishing School #1
Publisher: Little Brown Books
Date Published: February 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Steampunk
Source: Library

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. Temminick 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 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 Review:
I went into this book with amazingly high expectations. Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series is what originally got me so involved in the Steampunk genre. Not only did I love the historic setting and the gadgets, but the irresistible, laugh-out-loud,comedy of manners had me giggling into the early hours of the morning every time I cracked open one of the books. So I was thrilled to hear that Carriger was delving into Young Adult lit, a place where steampunk is only rarely seen. Unfortunately, I did find Etiquette and Espionage a tad lacking, perhaps because of my astronomical expectations.

Sophronia Temminick is being sent away to finishing school. After demolishing a perfectly delicious pudding by an unfortunate dismount out of a dumbwaiter, Sophronia's mother has had enough. Luckily, a representative of Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality happens to come calling right at the most opportune moment, and despite never having heard of the Academy, Mrs. Temminick sends Sophronia to pack her trunks at once. Only, Miss Geraldine's is no ordinary school. First of all, it's a giant air ship. You gain access to said ship by being jumped up by a werewolf, the first that Sophronia has ever seen. The "brother school" to Miss Geraldine's is a secret society for training evil geniuses and worse of all, Sophronia has to learn how to properly curtsy. Now Sophronia and her new friends of finishing school debutantes are trying to figure out why one of the senior students has suddenly been busted down to beginner status and why the teachers seem to be hiding something.

The main character, Sophronia, was a bit you can tell by the name. A bit of a wild child, we meet her as she falls out of the dumbwaiter into her mother's teatime, having been eavesdropping. I was all set to love her from the get-go, especially with that kind of explosive introduction. While she seems to be a genuine friend and have an intelligence and sense of humor, she seemed to also view everything as a bit detached. Perhaps this is because E&E is written in first person while Carriger's other novels tend to be more of a third person narrative. Regardless, Sophronia fell kind of flat fir me and I didn't end up liking her as much as I thought I would.  She seemed to just make casual observances about the world rather than live in it. Even when the scenes were chock full of action, it didn't seem all that urgent, because of how Sophronia portrayed the events.

The one character that really did impress me was the love interest, Soap. A "sootie" who works in the boiler room of the school, Soap was crafty and clever despite being of lower class. His initial meeting with Sophronia was fun and hilarious and the two had chemistry and banter that really made me start enjoying the book. And...Soap is black. A few weeks back on Steamy Saturday, I mentioned how I'm starting to see characters of color crop up more and more, and I totally love it. There is an added dimension of difficulty with interracial romances and I am fascinated by how authors deal with the politics and the racism of the Victorian era in order to make characters of multiple races prominent. Soap was a good character, just because he was fun and interesting, but I do wish there would have been a bit more back story there. I suppose we will have to wait and see if we find out more about him and the other sooties in the next book of the series.

Despite my misgivings, I still give the book a solid 4 out of 5 Keys. The single best word that I can use to describe Etiquette and Espionage is "MORE". I just wanted more. I wanted more character development, more description of the school and classes, more of a romance that you can see the beginnings of, but not feel. The detached and witty tone that works so well within the Parasol Protectorate series falls flat here, perhaps because the emotions and experiences of teenagers don't have that air of immaturity to them that they should. Teens speak, for the most part, like adults, and while they make rash decisions that teenagers are won't to do...they don't seem to really BE teenagers. That being said, Etiquette and Espionage was a fun and bright book. It's smart and the plot flows really well. I think I just had higher expectations than the book warrants. It's still a great steampunk read and would perhaps work well as a good transition into steampunk literature.

1 comment:

  1. I have heard that this series does not live up to her adult series. But I am still intrigued! And from your review, I think I'll still definitely like it.

    Great review, lady!