Author: Gail Carriger
Publish Date: February 5, 2013 by Little Brown Books for Young Readers
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.
Sophronia Temminnick at 14 is a great trial more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners -- and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Her poor mother, desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady, enrolls the lively tomboy in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
But 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.
Gail's Parasol Protectorate books have been recommended to me over and over again, and somehow I have never made the time to read them. So I was excited about her YA book, Etiquette & Espionage, because well, spies and a finishing school? I am so there.
The whimsical style of writing (very tongue-in-cheeky) was refreshing at first, but I have to admit that after a while it became a little overwhelming. I tried to pinpoint where the book lost me and ultimately for me, it was because the stakes were not high enough.
I liked Sophronia as a character because she challenged the ordinary and the expected. She went where she wasn't supposed to go and cleverly got herself out of some awkward and dangerous situations. I liked the setting of a floating espionage-finishing school. I even liked some of the secondary characters (Dimity always made me smile), but in the end, I didn't feel that heart-thumping feeling that left me wondering what-will-happen-here. And I want that feeling in a spy plot.
What I did get was solid world-building, some genuinely sweet moments between characters and a smart, curious main character. I recommend this book to Gail's fans and to people who are patient with a story that sets up a new fantasy world. Will I read the sequel? Yes! I feel very invested in the world after finishing this book. But I hope it will have much higher stakes and a little less whimsy.