Edition 19: Book Review: Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger
Reviewed by Mysti Parker
After a long wait, I finally got my hands on a copy of the third book in the Finishing School Series. Having been enchanted greatly with the first, and slightly less with the second, I was glad to discover that this was not the final book in the series. If it had been the last one, it would have been wholly unsatisfying, so with that in mind, I have to be a little more flexible with this review.
This third installment of the Finishing School steampunk series brings us back to the misadventures of Sophronia Temminick and friends as they float above the English countryside in a giant airship/school. All our favorite main characters are back, with fewer new characters introduced, and fewer appearances of the supporting characters.
As opposed to the first two books, only a short portion of this story takes place in Madame Geraldine’s airship school. The rest takes place in and around a train that Sophronia and friends hijack. They have good reason for such vagrancy, as their dear schoolmate, Sidheag, wants to return as quickly as possible to her Scottish werewolf family.
Just as the last book drew us into vampire politics, this one features the tricky and treacherous world of werewolf culture. We’re also pulled into a bit of a love triangle featuring Soap the sootie and Felix Mercey, rich son of a duke. Both are smitten with Sophronia, and she with both of them, for different reasons. What she doesn’t know, however, is if she can trust Felix’s intentions, considering his father and associates are notorious “Picklemen”—sort of like the mafia of this steampunk world.
The first and last third of the book kept my attention with ongoing conflict and a sense of urgency. Like the previous book, however, the middle dragged. They were on a long trip, but I really didn’t want to feel like I had train-lag at journey’s end. Instead of edge-of-your-seat action, much was told in conversation and a lot of inner dialogue from Sophronia. Much of that grew tedious, especially her inner thoughts, which sounded too stilted to be actual thought and also gave a sense of feeding information to the reader. I’d have liked a little less talk and a lot more action (Toby Keith style).
Things finally did speed up (literally) toward the end, as the gang tries to outrun some dangerous enemies. Then, just as we think Sophronia and Soap are finally making a conscious choice to be together, something truly surprising and gasp-inducing happens. I won’t spoil it for you, of course, but it ended on that note, leaving us with a true cliffhanger. This is why I was tremendously relieved to discover this is not the final book in a trilogy, but rather the third book in a growing series. Thank the Picklemen for that!
Though I wasn’t entirely enamored of this particular installment, I am fully connected with the characters and plot from the first book. That may be the author’s best trick of the trade—to hook us right away, and then reel us slowly into this steampunk world, never knowing when she’ll finally yank us up out of the water and into the ending. If you enjoy steampunk that’s appropriate for middle grade readers and beyond, you’ll enjoy this series. Do begin at the beginning, however, because these are not standalone stories. But, they are well worth the cliffhangers.
Waistcoats and Weaponry, by Gail Carrier
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2014
Mysti Parker is a wife, mother, and shameless chocoholic. While her first love is romance, including the Tallenmere fantasy romance series and an award-winning historical with EsKape Press, she enjoys writing flash fiction (the weirder the better) and children’s stories. She resides in Buckner, KY with her husband, three children and too many pets.