I’m not usually into steampunk – I don’t really even understand what it is – but I read Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series based on a recommendation from the Fug Girls, and really enjoyed the world it was set in. Namely, a Victorian England where supernatural creatures are fully integrated into society: all the cool kids have ghosts in their houses, werewolves constitute Her Majesty’s armed forces, and vampires set the tone for fashion and culture. So when I first heard about the Finishing School series, a YA series set 25 years before the events of Soulless (Parasol Protectorate book 1), I was all over it.
The Finishing School series consists of four books: Etiquette & Espionage, Curtsies & Conspiracies, Waistcoats and Weaponry, and Manners & Mutiny, the last of which just came out in November 2015. As is my custom, I reread all the books in the series before reading the final, and decided to attempt to review all of them.
Etiquette & Espionage:
This book, I loved – it was just so much fun!
When we first meet our heroine, she is hijacking a dumbwaiter in an attempt to eavesdrop on a secret meeting between her mother and an unknown visitor, but she ends up crashing spectacularly to the ground, destroying a cake in the process. As it turns out, the visitor is there to escort Sophronia to “Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality” – which is my #2 dream school: a flying dirigible where young English ladies of good breeding are trained to become spies and assassins. Sophronia is accepted as a covert recruit, meaning that she has no knowledge of the school or its secret purpose. Yes, the whole outsider/newbie thing is an often-used trope, but it’s effective and allows the reader to learn about this new world at the same pace as the character. Unsurprisingly, Sophronia turns out to be exceedingly talented as a spy, and immediately puts her new training to good use: climbing around the flying ship uncovering sinister plots, making friends with the sooties belowdecks, and rescuing a mechanical dog named Bumbersnoot. She also managed to collect a tight-knit group of friends amongst the other first years, plus one mean girl nemesis.
One of my favourite aspects of this book was the lack of romance; Sophronia has a subtle flirtation with a couple boys (her sootie friend Soap, and evil-genius-in-training Lord Mersey), but there’s no “tru luv 4EVA” nonsense, which was a nice change for a YA series. Another highlight throughout was the lessons, though I am sad that the author didn’t explicitly describe how to kill someone with a handkerchief. I need this information…for, uh, reasons. Overall, Sophronia is a great character – competent, loyal, and full of sass and curiosity that gets her into trouble – and this was a great start to a series.
Overall, this was an entertaining series, full of trademark Gail Carriger humour and details (lots of tea, food, and fantastic Victorian outfits). Fans of the Parasol Protectorate series will appreciate getting some further backstory for certain characters (Genevieve Lefoux, Lord Akeldama, the Kingair werewolf pack, and Westminster Hive) and subtle Easter eggs (like the Brass Octopus, a metanatural child, and a certain secretive butler). Definitely worth a read, and I’m hoping that Carriger’s new Custard Protocol YA series can find a way to check in with some of my favourite ladies of quali-tay.