Edition 8: Book Review: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Reviewed by Mysti Parker
While looking for a book to review for this month’s edition, I came across this fascinating cover and title and knew I had to take a look. When I read the description, I knew I’d have to give it a try. Now that I’ve read the first book in Gail Carriger’s ‘Finishing School’ series, I can see why this YA author has accumulated a legion of fans.
A mixture of Victorian propriety, outlandish steampunk inventions, and popular paranormal elements combine to make this series sure to please a modern reader’s palate.
It all begins with a laugh-out-loud beginning as 14-year-old Sophronia Temminick uses the family dumbwaiter to spy on her mother’s meeting with a stranger in the parlor. Unfortunately, the dumbwaiter isn’t meant to carry Sophronia’s weight, despite the inventive use of india rubber wrapped around her boots. The poor girl comes crashing into the parlor, flinging a bowl of trifle all over herself and everyone in the room. From that messy beginning and her mother’s reaction, we get the distinct impression that this is not out of character for Sophronia.
Which brings us to the stranger in the room. The woman with the thick French accent is supposedly a recruiter to a highly prestigious finishing school, recommended by a dear family friend. And now that Sophronia’s mother, her friend, and the recruiter are covered in trifle, Mother is all-too-eager to send her wayward daughter off for proper training.
So begins the meat of the story and we quickly learn the school’s real purpose. They do indeed train young ladies in all matters of etiquette, but with a few non-traditional lessons for good measure. Throwing a knife while curtsying. The role of poisons when planning a banquet. You know, things any proper lady intelligencer should learn.
Sophronia quickly takes to her training, and with the help of her new classmates, embarks on her first mission to find the hidden prototype to a super-secret invention. Yet, finding it before her nemesis, the government, and a mafia-like group get to it proves to be hilariously tricky.
Therein lies the beauty of this book—such dichotomy in and of itself is so unlikely that it’s a thrill to read. Add to that Ms. Carriger’s witty writing and outlandish world-building, and you’ve got a really entertaining story on your hands.In fact, the entire book rides on a very light-hearted current. While many stories placed in such settings and times drift into moroseness, this non-depressive aspect was refreshing. However, I did have a few personal peeves about the story.
Please realize that, while not being an avid YA reader, I tried to don my hat and read this from a younger perspective. Firstly, I couldn’t quite get past the addition of the vampire and werewolf characters. I know they are highly popular these days, but I felt a sense that they were inserted because they are popular, not that their being supernatural actually added that much to the story. Had these two been quirky humans like everyone else in the book, I’d have still enjoyed the story immensely. It’s a bit disappointing to see authors succumb to the latest fads, though I know that’s what sells.
Another issue I had was some of the language used throughout. Purple prose is common in this type of literature, but some instances I felt were way overdone. Also, names for some characters and organizations were so outlandish; they verged on the ridiculous, like the evil Picklemen and the Order of the Brass Octopus. I was literally scratching my head with those.
Yet, all gripes aside, Etiquette & Espionage proved to be a unique and fun read. I’d highly recommend it to not only YA fans, but fans of humor and steampunk as well. I’m not certain when the next book in the series will be available, but I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for it!
Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young People, 2013
Mysti Parker is a full time wife, mother of three, and a writer. Her first novel, A Ranger’s Tale was published in January, 2011 by Melange Books, and the second in the fantasy romance series, Serenya’s Song, was published in April 2012. She is also the proud writer of Unwritten, a blog recently voted #3 for eCollegeFinder’s Top Writing Blogs award.