Sophronia Temminick is a tomboy in a time and place that values ladylike and proper behavior far above an adventurous spirit in girls. Her daredevil exploits and plucky ways (not to mention her horrible curtsey) are the bane of her mother’s existence. In order to ‘fix’ Sophronia — or at least to get her out of her mother’s hair — she is shipped off to finishing school where she will, it is hoped, replace her rowdy ways with refinement.
But Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is not at all what it seems. It isn’t in a Swiss castle, for one. And while the pupils do learn the arts of music, fan waving and eyelash fluttering, they also learn the finer points of intelligence gathering, dagger throwing, and fending off werewolves. The school is training a group of very polite intelligencers and assassins! Surprised, Sophronia settles into her new school but retains her daring ways — even making some friends as maverick as she is. A good thing, too, for over the course of the term, she has to face down a school for evil geniuses, outlaw airship pirates, and spiteful, secret-keeping classmates. Sophronia puts her newfound etiquette lessions and covert skills to the test over the winter holidays, which culminates in a battle royale involving a riot, a fire, and a cheese pie. She even almost pulls off the social niceties.
Sophronia is not only the main character, but the narrator of this story, though it is written in the third person. This affords author Gail Carriger the opportunity to use Steampunk/Victorian slang and worldview, which tends to lend an air of realism to the story. The first in a four book YA series, this book is set 25 years before Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, but in the same universe. In addition, fans of the previous series will be charmed to encounter some old friends — albeit the younger versions of them. All in all, Etiquette & Espionage is is witty, charming, clever and fun. It is well-written, and has a strong, well-characterized female protagonist that people of all ages can identify with. I heartily recommend it.
Interested? Read an excerpt via Google Books.
Note: I received this book as a free Advanced Reader’s Copy from the publisher. This book will be available for purchase on February 5, 2013.