Goodreads: Etiquette and Espionage
Series: Finishing School #1
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 a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners–and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, young ladies learn to finish…everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage–in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year’s education.
I have fond memories of constantly seeing Etiquette and Espionage and the other Finishing School books in the library around the time they came out (2013, for this one), always intending to check them out and read them because the Gail Carriger seemed so popular. . .and never actually doing it. So it is with great interest that, eight years later, I have finally read this book — and realized it’s nothing like I expected it to be. I was expecting something like Kathleen Baldwin’s A School for Unusual Girls, since both novels have the premise that a boarding school for girls is covertly an institution that trains them in espionage, but the similarities basically end there. While Baldwin’s series is immersive, serious, and romantic, Carriger’s is a steampunk tongue-in-cheek take that skews a bit younger.
I have to write as a disclaimer that Carriger and I don’t seem to share the same sense of of humor. While she’s obviously making little winking jokes throughout the entire book that I’m clearly supposed to find amusing, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I also wasn’t expecting the characters in a book about a finishing school (which DOES train its students for polite society, in addition to the darker arts) to talk as they’re Bertie Wooster, straight out of a Wodehouse novel, particularly because I believe the time period is a bit earlier than the Jeeves novels. I’m sure some readers will be tickled by the whole aesthetic, but it wasn’t really what I was expecting and I just didn’t find it that funny.
That aside, the book is fun. I really liked that protagonist Sophronia is 14, and she acts like it — a good reminder that YA was more like this eight years ago, focused on characters younger than 18 who acted more like teens than like grown adults. Sophoronia is silly, rebellious, friendly, and skilled all at once, and though I think I’d share her older sisters’ opinion that she’s a bit annoying if I met her in real life, she’s entertaining to read about, and I do have to admire her heart.
I’m still not 100% sure what the finishing school is for. Whose “side” are they on? What do they do? Are they good? Evil? It seems weird to me this isn’t fully covered in book 1 because I don’t want to have to read the rest of the series to find out. I guess readers are just supposed to expect the story as it is, but I was worried the whole time that, in seeking to do something right, Sophronia might actually be causing harm. And maybe she did, but I still don’t know at the end of the book!
Etiquette and Espionage isn’t my favorite book ever, but I think it’s just a matter of my personal taste. If someone likes this sense of humor, or if someone is looking for a lower YA book, this could be a great choice.