Etiquette & Espionage, Gail Carriger’s first installment of her YA series set in the universe of the Parasol Protectorate, is an absolute delight. The events take place before Soulless, and can be thoroughly enjoyed without having read the other series. I read Soulless a few years ago, and am ashamed to admit that I don’t remember much, just the basics that werewolves and vampires are out in society, and that vampires are fabulous (which is not the main point of the book, but certain things stick with you!) When I saw that Carriger had a finishing school series, I was quite pleased. I adore finishing school stories, steampunk, and Carriger, so this seemed right up my alley!
Our plucky heroine is Sophronia Angelina Temminnick, a fourteen-year-old youngest daughter who is a trial to her mother. (Really, how many heroines, or fourteen-year-olds, aren’t trials to their mothers?) She does not behave exactly how a young girl on the cusp of becoming a debutante should, so she is shipped off to finishing school, much to her dismay. But she soon finds that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing School Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is not all it appears to be, almost as soon as the carriage leaves her property. For you see, at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, one learns how to finish – anything. Lessons span from household cures to poisonings, from fainting to feinting, from eyelash fluttering to seduction, from politics to dancing, from theater etiquette to discreetly taking care of your target, and much more. Sophronia quickly makes a friend in Dimity, an enemy in Monique, and even a pet in Bumbersnoot.
While this is a YA novel about a finishing school, there is more here than just fluff. It is set in a school for girls, so of course there is talk of flirting, boys, and attire, but there is more than that. Carriger does not create an epic romance – the girls are too young for that yet, and as young Dimity says, “I am not allowed followers until I’m sixteen.” It is quite refreshing. The focus lies more on the mysteries that occur at such a school, and the trouble and mischief that inevitably arise. There are small mysteries that Sophronia and her friends are capable of solving on their own, and there are also bigger arcs that will most assuredly be addressed in future installments. I also enjoy the fact that we have not only other species (werewolves and vampires, whot!) we also have other races. In addition, we also have some cross-dressing, which is grudgingly accepted in some, but not in others. Sophronia seems to have her head on her shoulders more than some other YA heroines, in that she knows when to not get involved. There are bigger things going on in the world around her, but she doesn’t try to solve everything on her own!
I thoroughly enjoyed my journey to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s with Sophronia. The writing is smooth, the characters intriguing, and the names ridiculous. (Lord Dingleproops, really?) There are terms and concepts that leave me completely confused, but I am comfortable in the fact that all will be explained later. There are also some other terms that occur only in this series that I put firmly in the “steampunk thingamajig” category, but I suppose that is to be expected. It is a book I can read more than once and still find new things to enjoy. I look forward to the next book (which I confess to have started before finishing this review) where the girls are a bit older, the classes are harder, and the espionage more dangerous. And as Lady Linette says, “No one said learning etiquette and espionage would be easy, my dear.”
(As a bonus, there’s a lovely music video that goes along with the book, along with a splendid website!)