Sometimes when you read a new book, it can take the entire length of the book to develop an opinion of it. Other times, perhaps more rarely, you know within the first two pages that you’ll love it. Such was the case for me with Etiquette & Espionage, the opening of Gail Carriger’s new Finishing School series. I’m having trouble defining the exact genre this book falls into; it’s young adult, steampunk, paranormal fantasy. Finishing School is set in the same fictional world as Carriger’s other big series, Parasol Protectorate, but Etiquette & Espionage occurs 20 years prior to the events in that series.
Sophronia’s mother, Mrs. Temminnick, is at her absolute wits’ end in dealing with her youngest, least ladylike daughter. When Mrs. Temminnick has the opportunity to send the wild child off to become a proper lady, she leaps at the chance, and the reluctant Sophronia is whisked away to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality with barely a chance to pack her things or say goodbye. Sophronia soon learns that there’s more to this finishing school than curtseys and dancing—she has classes in espionage, diversion, and death as well. As she struggles to fit in with her classmates and master her lessons, Sophronia discovers that there is a lot more to the world than she ever knew and becomes accidentally embroiled in the big intrigue of the year.
Instead of chapters, we have lessons—a clever touch, I thought. Each lesson title indicates something Sophronia learns, and the lessons she learns aren’t always the lessons anyone tried to teach her. Often, her hands-on experience teaches her far more than she learns in the classroom, and she learns and develops as a character even before she reaches the school.
The writing throughout Etiquette & Espionage is simply delightful. The humor is droll and dry, invoking more giggles than I usually experience from a book. It set the tone for the book, and the characters definitely fit that tone very well. I knew and understood Sophronia within a few pages, just by reading the beautiful narration describing her actions.
Worldbuilding the prequel
The world of these two series is a steampunk, paranormal version of our own world, with new and different technology and paranormal creatures. I read this book without having previously read the Parasol Protectorate series, and there were occasions where I wondered if things would make more sense to me with the context of that series. Our viewpoint character and plucky protagonist, Sophronia, was as in the dark as I was, though, so it didn’t feel like I was missing anything crucial.
I expect to learn more about the world throughout the continuation of the Finishing School series, as Sophronia herself learns more. Carriger’s worldbuilding was a definite highlight of this book. There were no infodumps; the reader was just thrown right into this new fantastical world, and the development of the world was approached entirely through Sophronia herself learning more about the world she lives in.
Why should you read this book?
Etiquette & Espionage is a quick, very fun read and opens a series that promises to continue the fun. This young adult novel is suited for all ages, without the annoying tropes that have become common in the YA genre as a whole. Unless you cannot stand steampunk technology or paranormal creatures, I don’t see any reason why you should not give this book a try.