Review: Etiquette & Espionage

Author: Gail Carriger
Series: Finishing School #1
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 307 (Hardcover)
Source: Gifted
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.

First in a four book YA series set 25 years before the Parasol Protectorate but in the same universe.
~*~Lili's Reflections~*~

Gail Carriger has found a way to combine the proper etiquette expected of a lady in old England with the deadly art of espionage to create a novel full of fun and intrigue. Oh, and werewolves and vampires and the most adorable mechanical dog named Bumbersnoot. Speaking of which, Carriger's humor shines through in  many ways, but her awesome ability to come up with the most ridiculous names is simply great. Bumbersnoot, Mrs. Barnaclegoose, Lord Dingleproops...need I say more?

Despite that, I must admit that Sophronia's name is quite the mouthful! With that being said, she's also an amazing character. She's determined and driven, totally unique among the dainty women of old England. She's tough, strong, one of the boys in a ladylike way. I never thought such a feat could be achieved before reading this book! And she's accepting of everyone and everything, even at the tender age of fourteen. This shines through when she befriends Soap, a colored poor sootie that works the boiler rooms on Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Despite his colored skin and the belief at the time that white individuals, especially ladies, should not fraternize with colored people, she befriended him and proved him to be a valuable asset. I loved watching their relationship grow and I can't wait to see more of them in book two.

I also loved her great trio of friends. Dimity, Agatha, and Lady Sidheag--the Scottish girl raised by werewolves. Though all are incredibly different, they come together to create a group of determined girls learning the proper art of finishing...everything. And while they unravel mysteries with the help of Vieve, a girl who just wants to be considered one of the boys, they're faced with the most evil nemesis of the elder Monique. Cunning and truly evil, she can only be described as a well-educated spoiled brat who will do anything to get her way. And that type of person is truly the most vile of creatures in the eyes of little thirteen and fourteen year old girls. It was all very adorable.

But what I really enjoyed was the world-building. This is an old England with vampires and werewolves. It presents unique supernatural lore that doesn't overshadow the overall espionage plots of the novel. However, it is a nice side-plot that I hope will continue in the future books considering that both a male werewolf and a male vampire are important authoritative figures at the finishing school. I also liked the amazing steampunk inventions produced by Vieve that also gave way to the creation of airdinghies which I can describe as several hot air balloons attached to a single basket. And in these baskets are flywaymen. You heard me right! Evil robbers that patrol the skies, swoop down, and rob the rich. It was such a cute touch and while they were evil and did horrible things like hurling  garlic mash--garlic!--at vampires, they're creation was truly fascinating.

All in all, I would say this was a very great book. Though it is the first Carriger book I have ever read, I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to read more! I have to admit that, at times, this novel dragged for me because the beginning of the novel required so much explanation. Though we as readers knew what finishing at the academy meant, Sophronia was blind to its true intent for the first third of the book. I believe more information for the main character and less secrets in the beginning would have made for a faster beginning and quicker procession of reading the book with ease. Once Sophronia learned everything, I was able to read quickly because the overall plot was engrossing. The slow beginning is really the only fault I can find with this one. And that is the reason that I recommend this book to any historical fiction lovers as well as those looking for a cute novel about spies. Fans of Ally Carter will be presently surprised by the witty remarks, antics, and female jokes littered throughout Carriger's foray into the young adult genre.

4 stars



  1. This book sounds awesome! I kinda want it now! Great review!

  2. I'm listening to the audiobook and enjoying it so much! The narrator is excellent, and makes Carringer's humor really shine.

  3. It looks and sounds very cool! Can't wait to read it. Love your new layout :)

  4. I am so tempted to buy this! It sounds great. I love badass females, so YES, I need it! Sophronia (yes, I did just copy and paste that) sounds awesome.

  5. LOL, Carriger's hilarious names were one of the best parts of the Parasol Protectorate series. They really threw me at first, because I wasn't sure if she was trying to be funny or not, and the characters always referred to those people so seriously. But I got used to it and got a few laughs thrown into the mix.

    Also, a lot of the characters you mention sound like younger versions of PP characters (or a lot with the same name), so that's totally awesome and I must investigate this pronto.

    But in any case, I'm glad you liked this, Lili. It sounds like it's Gail Carriger at the top of her game, and I can't wait to see what she's cooked up for this novel.

  6. I've really enjoyed her Parasol Protectorate series, so this one is on my list! Glad to see she still has great characters, and yeah that name is quite the mouthful

  7. This sounds like a fun book! I love Ally Carter's books, so I will definitely check this one out! I may have to check out the Parasol Protectorate series as well! Thanks for the review!

  8. When I first read the synopsis for this one, I wasn't so sure that I would like it. I didn't know if it would be a little too young for my old self, because the characters are young. My library has a copy, but I haven't brought it home with me. YET! After all of the absolutely amazing reviews that I have read for it, including yours now, I will absolutely be putting this one on hold to get it in my hands as soon as possible. I need a good laugh. And I also need to get a puppy, because I am going to name him Bumbersnoot!