Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Etiquette And Espionage Etiquette & Espionage
by Gail Carriger

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: June Young
Jacqui Smith

14 year old Sophronia Temminnick is an adventurous girl who likes to tinker with mechanical items to figure out how they work. It is not the done thing in 1851 England for a girl, not even in the steampunk world of Gail Carriger. To address this, her mother sends her off to Madame Geraldine’s Finishing School to learn how to behave like a lady.

The finishing school turns out to be a cover for a spy school for well-to-do young ladies. It is unlike any finishing school you have ever read of, complete with steampunk mechanisms. The book is a very good general introduction for teen readers into the steampunk genre, but more so for girls than boys, because most of the characters are girls, with a few boys. However, there is no romance and only minor flirting of the eye-lash fluttering kind, so it is quite possible boys will like it too.

Etiquette & Espionage, Book 1 of the Finishing School series is an introductory story to a new YA (Young Adult) series set approximately 21 years before the events in the Parasol Protectorate. Ms Carriger created this world for her grown-up Parasol Protectorate series featuring an alternate history steampunk Victorian England, with its combination of comedy and fantasy. Vampires and werewolves have integrated with civilised society in this England and are very much out in the open, to the point where this aspect is no longer part of the traditional horror genre.

I found the first 1/3 of this book has some pacing issues due to some things needing to be put out there for the reader, but from the middle third onwards it is a very engaging read. Sophronia and her new friends need to retrieve a prototype that got lost while she was on her way to her new school. Over the course of the school year she makes new friends and explores her new school, as well as investigating a few things related to this missing piece of new technology.

I liked this book for its cheerfulness and its comedy. Sophronia has 2 parents and plenty of siblings, of which she is neither the oldest nor youngest. The only issue in the Temminnick household is that Sophronia doesn’t behave like a proper Victorian girl, in a way that makes her a credible steampunk leading character. The book truly is a different setup to most YA fiction and I welcome the change. Etiquette & Espionage is also a stand-alone story. You don’t need to read any other book to get an overview.

This book can be read and happily enjoyed by adult readers too. For the established fans, it is rather exciting to spot a younger version of a character you have already meet, or the beginnings of what is to become established steampunk technology. I’d love to read and find out what Sophronia and her friends get up to next in Curtsies & Conspiracies, due out in November 2013.

- June Young

I have no idea whether Queen Victoria would have found the opening scenes of Etiquette & Espionage amusing, but I can assume you that I was most entertained. In fact, I can assure you that the whole novel was quite diverting. Though it must be said that the earlier chapters were stronger than the conclusion, which seemed a little contrived, and thus was not entirely satisfying.

Set in 1851, about forty years prior to Soulless, it is the story of the decidedly rough around the edges Sophronia Temminnick and her first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. "Finishing" in more than one sense of the word, since the curriculum includes skills that have less to do with assignations and more to with assassinations – although a lady would never be so crass as to do such a thing in public. The plot is centred on a stolen device, and the attempts of various parties to conceal it, to copy it, or to capture it.

Carriger adds some novel elements to her world – there are flywaymen, who attack carriages and other conveyances using small airships. The school itself is quite extraordinary – but I won’t spoil that for you. (Though I do feel compelled to point out that airships weren’t even invented until 1852 in our reality – and that steam-powered dirigible carried only one person, a Frenchman named Henri Giffard).

This is not simply, as some have stated, a steampunk version of Harry Potter. I suspect its roots lie deeper than that, in those interminable series of children’s books set in boarding schools that I can remember from my childhood (such as the Chalet School and Jennings). And, in fact, that suggests that the cover art, which is screaming "YA", is misleading, and it is. This is a book I would happily give to young girls of ten to twelve years, knowing they’d enjoy it immensely. After all, the heroine is only fourteen. This is a tween novel – not that it can’t be enjoyed by teens or adults, but unlike Carriger’s earlier steampunk novels the whole tone is light, and just a bit fluffy…. cream puff literature, fun, beautifully crafted in its details, but not at all challenging.

- Jacqui Smith

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