Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger – Review

Etiquette & Espionage BIG

Book Jacket:

It’s one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It’s quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to finishing school.

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is the bane of her mother’s existence. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper etiquette at tea–and god forbid anyone see her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. She enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But little do Sophronia or her mother know that this is a school where ingenious young girls learn to finish, all right – but it’s a different kind of finishing. Mademoiselle Geraldine’s certainly trains young ladies in the finer arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but also in the other kinds of finishing: the fine arts of death, diversion, deceit, espionage, and the modern weaponries. Sophronia and her friends are going to have a rousing first year at school.

You can read an excerpt here.


From the most absurdly British surnames imaginable (alas, dear Cumberbatch, I fear you’ve been dethroned) to the many classes in The PROPER Way to Do Away With Someone, this book is patented Gail Carriger, through and through – that is to say, impeccably dressed tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness, also known as sheer fun.

Now yes, this series does take place in the same world as The Parasol Protectorate (i.e. a steampunky, paranormal alt Victorian London), albeit a few decades earlier, but fear not, neophytes, this series works perfectly well as an entree, which is to say, no previous knowledge required to enjoy (though there are admittedly some rather delightful Easter eggs for those in the know). But if you haven’t read Gail Carriger before, well, you’re in for a treat. Her patented brand of witty romp is entirely her own, and the ways in which she riffs off and plays on the mannerisms and social mores of Proper Society are endlessly amusing.

However to the established fans, I will say this – to state the ridiculously obvious, this story (as Gail Carriger’s first YA) is clearly intended for a younger audience, and as such it’s generally a broader kind of story than what Ms. Carriger has done before. The ridiculousness is a bit more ridiculous, and the romping at times leans a bit towards the cartoony – particularly with the Evil Genius School, Evil League of Evil, etc – and while it’s certainly all good fun, I did at times find myself reaching for and not quite finding a bit more to it all, particularly in terms of the plot and coming-of-age arc. With the plotting, well, when one reads about a spy/assassin school, one tends to expect double agents and crosses, betrayals and shocking reveals – and so I kept waiting for a major twist or turn, cheerfully anticipating what it could be – and instead this book turned out to be more of an adventure yarn (think Indiana Jones). I enjoyed the action, to be sure, and the delightful originality of Gail Carriger’s brain continues to astound, but at its bones this is just a very straightforward, action serial kind of story, and I was hoping for just a bit more. And as for the coming of age side of the proceedings, well, Sophronia remains delightfully irrepressible from start to finish, but once again I found myself waiting for something – in this case, a moment of true vulnerability, a crack or emotional upheaval, some kind of emotional payoff to her at last finding her place in the world – and again, it just never quite came about. So much as I enjoyed Sophronia’s growing horror at her own burgeoning fashion sense, I just kept wishing for a bit…more.

Still, in the end this is without doubt a very fun, very original story. Sophronia is a role model for perspicacity and sheer gumption, and it doesn’t take long before she collects a unique band of Scoobys and, with their help, sets out to save the world. (And can I just say, the lack of Inexplicable Attraction along the way was utterly delightful.) Bursting with scrapes, scandals, and shocking behavior, not to mention lessons on how better to employ feminine accouterments in aid of the fine art of Finishing, this book without doubt makes for one highly entertaining read. Indeed there truly is no mistaking a Gail Carriger novel.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Publishers Weekly (starred review) says:

Effortlessly blending Victorian, paranormal, and steampunk elements, Carriger offers a feast of words (flywayman, mechanimals) and names (Dimity Ann Plumleigh-Teignmott, Phineas B. Crow) to lunch on in her YA debut…a sparkling start to the Finishing School series.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) says:

It’s higher on silliness and lower on romance than we have come to expect for this age range, but that just leaves more room for exploding wicker chickens. As Dimity says, “Who doesn’t want an exploding wicker chicken?”