Book Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Author’s note: I won an ARC for this book earlier this year. The book itself comes out in hardback tomorrow, November 5.

Also, if you’re here for the #WriteMotivation update, I’ll be posting mine on Thursday this week.

curtises-and-conspiracesI’ve mentioned before that I kind of adore Gail Carriger’s novels, and while I’m patiently (okay, not so patiently) awaiting the Parasol Protectorate Abroad, I’ve been happily enjoying her venture into YA with the Finishing School series.

Curtsies & Conspiracies is the sequel to Etiquette & Espionage, about Sophronia Temminick and her stay at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. For the first time in recent memory, the dirigible school is making its way to London, which is very exciting. However, the trip itself is more than what it seems, and Sophronia is just the person to get to the bottom of it.

Sophronia was, once again, a delight to read about, and in this book we really get a chance to see her character grow in unexpected ways. That was easily my favorite part of the book: not the plot itself, but seeing how Sophronia faced the challenges the new semester threw at her, and more importantly, seeing how she dealt with the consequences of her actions.

I wish I could say more about it, but so much of that is near the end of the book and tied up in the story that it would be a major spoiler to discuss, and it was so, so wonderful to discover it along the way. I loved how it brought home that all these characters operate in the varying grey areas of morality. They make decisions and make mistakes and they have very good reasons for doing what they do, even if what they do isn’t the right thing by any stretch of the imagination.

Plus, there was this bit, near the end, that sums up Sophronia so succinctly I might have hugged the book:

“Why is it always your problem to fix?”
“Because I see that there is a problem when no one else does.”

That, I believe, is why Sophronia will be my favorite character forever: because of how much she sees and how willing she is to actually get involved. She’s brilliant, and I’m so excited to see how she’ll continue to grow over the course of this series.

For fans of the Parasol Protectorate series, going to London means getting the chance to see some of the other characters we already know and love. The roles they play within this story are important, so they’re not just tossed in as Easter eggs for fans, but it still made me squeal with glee.

I enjoyed the plot, though not quite as much as the character development we see from Sophronia, and a sort-of love triangle was introduced, which I still haven’t decided how I feel about it. I did like getting to see a little more from Vieve, and I loved the friendship that’s building up between Sophronia and the other girls in her age group, but particularly Dimity.

Curtsies & Conspiracies is a great follow-up to Etiquette & Espionage, and I really can’t wait to follow this group of characters into book three.

Book Review – Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

etiquette-and-espionageIf 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.