Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School)
I have been eagerly anticipating this first book in a new series by Gail Carriger, author of the fantastic The Parasol Protectorate
The book follows the exploits of 14 year old Sophronia Temminnick, a troublemaking youngest daughter of a middle class Victorian family. Not knowing what to do with a daughter interested in technology and books, her mother is only too happy to send her off to an exclusive finishing school. Except this finishing school teaches more than just deportment. It also teaches the arts of espionage and assassination.
This book has all the fun of the first Harry Potter novel; it shows an unsuspecting protagonist encountering a weird and wonderful boarding school, and, in fact, almost an entire new society of which she was previously unaware. So this book takes some pretty familiar "starting a new school" tropes and puts a nice spin on them. Sophonia is an extremely likeable character and her new school provides lots of opportunities for her to show off her daring.
This series takes place in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate series, but it's set several decades earlier, in the 1860s, I believe. (Edit: It's 1851.) So fans of that series will enjoy seeing some familiar characters pop up here and there. As for the steampunk elements, while I tend to think of the Parasol Protectorate as a predominantly supernatural series set in a steampunk world, this series seems to be a steampunk series set in a supernatural world. Meaning that this series seems to involve a lot more technology in more important roles than the previous series. There are also vampires and werewolves, but the supernatural elements don't drive the main plot and are pretty much incidental.
I don't want to spoil all the surprises of the book, but I will say that the steampunk elements include: airborne highwaymen in small balloons, a giant airship, a steam-powered dog, mechanical servants, airship pirates, a school for evil geniuses, aetheric communication devices, and a group who adorn their clothing with gears and their top hats with decorative goggles.
Ultimately, I loved this book. I found it totally charming, with its combination of polite manners, adventure, and emphasis on practical skills such as how to fake a faint without wrinkling your skirts. I would absolutely enroll in this type of finishing school.
My one and only complaint is that I wish it were longer. It's a young adult series, so it's fairly short. Otherwise there's no noticeable difference in language or style from Carriger's other books. There's no sex or any real romance in this one, which is another difference. (And can we take a moment to celebrate a YA book with a female protagonist that DOESN'T place any emphasis on romance?) I'm extremely excited about the potential for this to be a phenomenal series. I know the second book is already written and I think is supposed to come out later this year? I can't wait.
A final note: you can read the first three chapters of this book for free from Amazon: Etiquette & Espionage - FREE PREVIEW