Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Series: Finishing School #1
Published by Hachette Book Group
Pages: 307
Genre: Steampunk (YA)
Rating: Good
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Sophronia Temminnick, fourteen years old and over-fond of mucking about with mechanicals, goes along like a dutiful daughter when her mother enrolls her in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. However, Sophronia soon discovers that the lessons taught at this school are for finishing in a decidedly different manner.

While learning the usefulness of fluttering eyelashes and how to faint properly, Sophronia also learns the fine art of knife fighting as well as certain applications against vampires. No one ever said finishing school would be easy.


'"I liked you very much better when you weren't trying to kill me."'

This is Ms. Carriger's YA debut novel set in the same universe as her Parasol Protectorate series. As a fan of those books, it seemed only natural that I would read this one. Besides, look at that cover. It's just gorgeous. I especially love the pink gear and floral patterned wallpaper in the background - and I'm not even fond of pink.

As this book takes place in an already established universe, not much time is taken to set up the world. For readers of PP, that is doubtlessly a good thing. For the rest… Some of the reveals might seem a little out of left field.

The book starts off with Sophronia in the midst of a small disaster, something that is alluded to happening often. The story then rushes at full speed through Sophronia getting shipped off to finishing school and, honestly, the book never really takes a breather.

At this point, I was going to defend the book, mentioning its short length. But, really, there's no reason that this book couldn't have been fleshed out more. The setting - rather, the school - wasn't explored very well. The classes were almost non-existent. The characters, while charming, were charming archetypes with little in the way of dynamism.

I can only hope that this is rectified with later books in the series. (I do remember feeling much the same after I read the first PP novel.)

Sophronia is a delight. She's witty, thinks on her feet and isn't about to let convention of the times stop her. As brilliant as I thought she was, it was a mixed blessing and curse for the story to be told entirely from her view point. While this book wasn't (thank the stars) told in first person, but in third, I felt as though I would have liked spending time with the other characters to the story. Because they were all interesting to. Nothing like our dear Sophronia, (writing that name out is giving my works word processor fits…) it's true, but I feel that would have helped them get fleshed out.

There were also, much to my amusement, cameos from several PP characters as this book takes place years before the events told in that series. I won't give it away, but they were enough of characters in this book that I doubt anyone would feel at sea with their characters if they hadn't read PP.

To be fair, there really wasn't much of a plot. It read kind of like a novelization of a Hollywood movie. It was fast paced with quite a lot of action, Ms. Carriger's wonderful trademark humor and an imaginative setting. However, the plot was so barebones that at times it felt nonexistent.

This is where the titular 'Espionage' comes in and it felt a bit like a James Bond send up. That was merely alright with me as I'm not a fan of spy stories - I like them in theory but in practice, I can't help but be disappointed. For most of the book, the searching for this mysterious 'prototype' took a backseat to Sophronia getting acclimated to school life. (I would have loved to seen the school itself more fleshed out as well. The idea behind it was one that I just loved.)

I look forward to seeing the characters grow and develop, as I know Ms. Carriger can do, and hope that the next in the series spends more time with little things that develop the characters and setting. I did enjoy this book, but it wasn't particularly memorable - mostly a decent first book in a new series that I hope doesn't let me down.


  1. Well said! I think I'm in pretty much the same boat as you when it comes to this book. I wanted to love it, because I adore everything about the Parasol Protectorate books, but this one felt a little too juvenile for me. It was cute and had a lot of Gail C touches, but the story as a whole just didn't really work for me. I'm probably going to pass on the rest of the series, and just come back to Gail C when her Prudence series starts.

    1. Thank you. I can understand why you'd do that, but I do plan on reading the whole series - if for no other reason than I love Ms. C's sense of humor. I do hope that the story becomes more tightly plotted with more attention to the characters. But, even if it doesn't, this will be a nice, light series for me to read. Thanks again for stopping by.