Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: I have to start this post with a confession. I have had copies of Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series on my to-read shelf of adult books for a long time but never found the time to squeeze them in. So I was really excited to see Carriger’s teen debut and it was the first book of the 2013 publishing year that I read. Now I’m REALLY in trouble because if Etiquette & Espionage (Little, Brown 2013) is any sample, I may not be able to resist the adult books any longer! Sorry Cindy – there goes the blog schedule!
I was feeling a bit overwhelmed at the time I read this and it was the perfect tonic. I wanted it to just keep on going which speaks volumes for a person who has volumes and volumes awaiting her attention. Sophronia Angelina Temminnick, age fourteen, is the despair of her family. Uninterested in fashion and manners, she persists in taking things apart, displaying rampant curiosity and falling into and out of scrapes that shock the neighbors. With her sister Petunia’s debut coming soon, Sophronia commits one too many faux pas and is to be bundled off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Sophronia can think of nothing worse. But right from the start the experience is, well, downright exhilarating. First their carriage is highjacked by flywaymen and Sophronia has to concoct a daring escape. Then they discover that their finishing school floats about the countryside and the curriculum includes death, diversion, deceit, espionage and modern weaponries – all performed with decorum of course. In a few short days Sophronia finds herself with new friends both above and below decks, an adorable mechanimal named Bumbersnoot, elaborate schemes, a deceitful classmate with a grudge, fascinating lessons from a vampire professor and enjoying herself immensely!
Set in a steampunk Victorian England and packed with a colorful cast of characters, action, fisticuffs and close escapes, crazy machinery and very smart silliness, this is high entertainment indeed! Add dances, lovely dresses, clever dialog with a delightful irreverence and it all adds up to to a winner.
Cindy: Lynn is much more the aficionado of Regency Romance than I am, but this was a fun spin on the usual coming out parties and seasons and training to be a lady. When Sophronia asks Lady Linette “what precisely will I be expected to learn” at this finishing school, she is told:
“…information gathering and object retrieval of course. But mostly, you should learn how to finish.”
“Finish what, exactly?”
“Why, anything or anyone who needs finishing my dear.”
And sure enough, lectures about the importance of a lady always carrying a handkerchief are not just for hygiene purposes but for things like applying noxious gasses to one’s enemy. This is not your grandmother’s finishing school. Lynn mentioned the humor in this book, but one thing that made me laugh every time it was mentioned was the younger brother’s Depraved Lens of Crispy Magnification. Fortunately, Pill won’t even use it to murder ants. I loved the name of the lens though.
Despite the over the top story line and situations, the relationships between the girls have an authenticity that many teen girls will recognize. Jealousy, fierce loyalty, self-esteem issues, secrets and gossip are rampant on the airship (and on the ground.)
Gail Carriger’s website is a treat with page count trackers for her writing progress on each upcoming book (the sequel to this one, Curtsies & Conspiracies is due out in November. She is already hard at work on book 3, Waistcoats & Weaponry (16% of the first draft is written according to the trackers). I keep educating my middle school students about Steampunk but they still seem vague about it. The collection of Steampunk resources that Gail has made available on her site ought to help enlighten some readers and will make for fun browsing for those who are already in the know. Coal-chomping Bumbersnoot won my heart in this book and I’ll be lining up for the sequel come November. I think this series might make a fun teen movie. Hmmm.