Etiquette and Espionage: Finishing School Book One – Gail Carriger

Posted: May 28, 2013 in Review, steampunk
Tags: ,

ettiquette and espionageI have no idea whether Queen Victoria would have found the opening scenes of “Etiquette and Espionage” amusing, but I can assume you that I was most entertained. In fact, I can assure you that the whole novel was quite diverting. Though it must be said that the earlier chapters were stronger than the conclusion, which seemed a little contrived, and thus was not entirely satisfying.

Set in 1851, about forty years prior to “Soulless”, it is the story of the decidedly rough around the edges Sophronia Temminnick and her first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. “Finishing” in more than one sense of the word, since the curriculum includes skills that have less to do with assignations and more to with assassinations – although a lady would never be so crass as to do such a thing in public. The plot is centred on a stolen device, and the attempts of various parties to conceal it, to copy it, or to capture it.

Carriger adds some novel elements to her world – there are flywaymen, who attack carriages and other conveyances using small airships. The school itself is quite extraordinary – but I won’t spoil that for you. (Though I do feel compelled to point out that airships weren’t even invented until 1852 in our reality – and that steam-powered dirigible carried only one person, a Frenchman named Henri Giffard).

This is not simply, as some have stated, a steampunk version of Harry Potter. I suspect its roots lie deeper than that, in those interminable series of children’s books set in boarding schools that I can remember from my childhood (such as the Chalet School and Jennings). And, in fact, that suggests that the cover art, which is screaming “YA”, is misleading, and it is. This is a book I would happily give to young girls of ten to twelve years, knowing they’d enjoy it immensely. After all, the heroine is only fourteen. This is a tween novel – not that it can’t be enjoyed by teens or adults, but unlike Carriger’s earlier steampunk novels the whole tone is light, and just a bit fluffy…. cream puff literature, fun, beautifully crafted in its details, but not at all challenging.

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Supplied by Hachette NZ

Reviewed by Jacqui

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