If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you may recall that 1) I like steampunk a lot, and 2) I kind of fell in love with Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series last year. So you can imagine my absolute GLEE upon finding out her next series would be a YA steampunk series called The Finishing School, set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, only about 25 years earlier.
The first book, Etiquette & Espionage, came out earlier this year, and I snapped it up the second I got a chance. And I enjoyed it just as much as I hoped I would.
Our main character is Sophronia, a 14-year-old who is far too curious (and not nearly ladylike enough) for her own good. When her mother finally despairs of ever getting Sophronia to be presentable, a solution appears in the form of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. In less than an hour, Sophronia is packed off to the school to, at the very least, learn to curtsy properly.
What Sophronia finds, though, is that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s isn’t just any old finishing school. The girls there are being trained in covert operations, as spies and assassins.
But the finishing school isn’t the only surprise for Sophronia. Someone at the school has stolen something very important, and there are a lot of very powerful people who want it back. Sophronia’s first year at finishing school promises to be an interesting one.
We have a whole slew of brand-new characters, a couple of old familiar faces, and a whole slew of new settings, not the least of which is the Finishing School itself.
“My goodness,” said Sophronia. “It looks like a caterpillar that has overeaten.”
And it did. It wasn’t so much a dirigible as three dirigibles mashed together to form one long chain of oblong, inflated balloons. Below them dangled a multilevel series of decks, most open to the air, but some closed off, with windows reflecting back the dying sun. At the back, a colossal set of propellers churned slowly, and above them billowed a massive sail–probably more for guidance than propulsion. A great quantity of steam wafted out from below the lower back decks, floating away to join the mist as if responsible for creating it. Black smoke puffed sedately out of three tall smokestacks.
Sophronia was enchanted.
Allow me to reiterate that:
AIRSHIP. ASSASSIN. SCHOOL.
It is just as cool as it sounds. Sophronia, being a very curious character (and being at a school that encourages such things as long as you can get away with it), spends much of the book exploring Mademoiselle Geraldine’s and all its myriad nooks and crannies. It’s fascinating, and I loved what we got to see.
Sophronia herself is a great deal of fun. She’s such a proactive character, clever and quick on her feet, and usually the one to figure a way both into and out of trouble. I really enjoyed being in her head and watching her figure out the mystery at the school.
(Also, I read Bumbersnoot as a steampunk K9 from Doctor Who. I think that actually makes it a little better.)
Plus, as a fan of the Parasol Protectorate series, it was great to see the younger versions of characters I’d come to love from those books. Each familiar face made me squeal with glee, but they’re introduced in such a way that you don’t have to know anything about the previous series to enjoy them.
Carriger’s writing is, as always, an absolute treat to read, with a perfectly hilarious and Victorian voice that makes her novels so much fun. Between that and the amusing character names, I don’t think I quit grinning throughout the entire book.
If I had a quibble, it would be with the final fight scene. I was a little confused at times about what was going on, and I was surprised Sophronia could slip in and out of it as well as she did. But the rest of the book was good enough that it didn’t really affect my overall enjoyment of it.
If you like steampunk, you really need to read this book. If you’ve never read a steampunk novel, then Etiquette & Espionage is a really good place to start.