Wednesday, April 10, 2013
On becoming a lady, and a spy
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Reviewed by: Sesana
4 out of 5 stars
Sophronia Temminick is hardly a proper lady. She'd much rather spend her time taking things apart than practicing her curtsy. Her mother has entirely given up on her, and sent her away to Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Little does her mother suspect that at Mademoiselle Geraldine's the course of studies includes assassination and subterfuge along with the more conventional classes.
I think that maybe somebody who'd read the entire Parasol Protectorate series to this point may end up enjoying Etiquette & Espionage a bit more than I did. I've only read Soulless so far, which was enough for me to notice that the Finishing School series will be set in the same universe. Fine by me, I really like Carriger's versions of vampire and werewolf societies.
And I did really enjoy this book. It's YA, which is a bit of a change for Carriger. I think she made the jump really nicely by just cleaning up some of the content but leaving the tone mostly the same. She managed to resist the urge to "talk down" to the younger audience, which is a relief. I love the idea of the finishing school, which teaches advanced spying techniques alongside the skills generally expected of a proper Victorian lady. And so our protagonist, Sophronia, learns how to execute both a proper curtsy and an unwanted guest. I loved the idea of their discretion lessons the most: taking tea with a headmistress who has no idea her charges are being trained to be potentially deadly spies. There are plenty of steampunk elements scattered around: mechanical servants, air pirates, mad scientists. They don't intrude on the narrative too much, and I never got the sense that Carriger was overawed at her own cleverness, or expected us to be.
But all that is really just the setting. The plot (aside from the usual boarding school politics) is about a missing prototype of some sort. Sadly, the plot is kind of thinly developed, in favor of developing the boarding school setting. It works, to a certain extent, because I'm really fascinated by the place. The plot, not so much. But there were a lot of open questions left at the end of the first book, and I did feel like they were going to be answered. Maybe I'm reaching a bit, but I feel like this seemingly minor adventure is going to end up playing a much bigger part in the overarching story to come.
Big kudos to Carriger for only giving the slightest hint of a potential romance. Too many books, especially YA books, rush the romance directly from the initial meeting to an all-consuming love in two steps or less. I really hope she continues to handle this well, because I'd really love to see a YA series with a romance that develops slowly over the course of the series, based on mutual respect and admiration. That isn't too much to ask... Is it?
Also posted at Goodreads.