|Etiquette & Espionage
Finishing School: Book the First
3.5 / 5
"Sopharina intended to pull the dumbwaiter up from the kitchen to outside the front parlor on the ground floor, where Mrs. Barnaclegoose was taking tea."
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.
This book (auspiciously or not - it definitely wasn't life-changing) made #50 for me this year! Wahoo, I made my GoodReads reading challenge goal! (Yeah, I'm gonna have to up the ante for next year...)
In any case - what a fun read! Definitely a YA book, as is probably evident. Sopharina is another one of those awesome strong female leads who I find myself gravitating towards, even in my 30s. (And I think I would have loved them even more when I was in my teens, trying to define who I was!) This was another referral from my awesome coworker, who is a cataloger and therefore saw this come across her desk. She snatched it up, and read it in two nights - I did the same, once she had passed it on to me! It was a super quick and engaging read. I don't know if I'd read more of the series, even though it did leave cliffhangers (of course), but I did think the concept was a lot of fun. As far as young adult sci-fi/fantasy novels about feminists go, this one was certainly different: it was based in a steampunk version of our own world, complete with a clockwork servant class (they were called "mechanicals") and dirigibles, and no technology as it was supposed to be Victorian England. So, that caught my eye right from the start (isn't the cover great?!). Then of course there was the "etiquette" school which actually was what it advertised...but with a twist. While most don't realize it who aren't in the know, the school doubles as a spy training institute. Girls are taught (at least in their first year) how to flutter their eyelashes and faint to distract their targets, for instance. So while Sopharina was sent there by her mother to learn etiquette, and she does pick up poise, she also learned the art of deception. It's a great concept! I would never have thought of it.
The reader follows Sopharina along in her adventures as she starts school (she is ignorant of its dual nature, at first), makes friends and enemies, and of course embarks on several tight-squeeze adventures. The characters are all larger than life, great caricatures. The story isn't quite predictable, but it isn't surprising, either. If you are expecting a good, solid steampunk YA novel, you will be pleased with this one.
This is Carriger's first YA work; now I'm interested in checking out her adult fiction....
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