Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger, was published in 2013 by Little, Brown and Company.
Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than in 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.
So, I took one look at the cover for this book and expected some sort of gritty, steampunk fantasy mixed with some The Agency vibes. But then I started reading it, and I was completely thrown off, and then intrigued, by the droll, almost absurdist tone that the book has. This is definitely a case where the cover almost misleads you as to what the book is about, especially since the girl on the cover looks about 10 years older than Sophronia, who is only 14.
This book is so steampunk; it’s delightful. There’s also some supernatural/paranormal thrown in as well with the inclusion of werewolves and vampires, and before you roll your eyes and groan, picture the werewolf with a top hat tied securely around his ears so it doesn’t fall off, and then picture the vampire saying “whot, whot?” all the time. Yes, it is that awesomely silly.
I did think some of what happened in the book was a little vague; I didn’t really get an accurate picture of what the Picklemen were like or why they wanted the prototype, or why exactly the prototype was important. But since there were so many unfinished threads in this book, I expect a clearer picture to come about in the next.
I also admit that I’m not a huge fan of the Action Girl trope, at least in some of its iterations—but I absolutely adore the type used in this book, which is the “don’t get rid of your corset/dress/knitting/feminine accessory—use it to your advantage!” type. Women should still get to be awesome when wearing dresses.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk, Young Adult
“When defending yourself against a vampire,” said Professor Braithwope at the start of the lesson, “it is important to remember three things, whot? He is a good deal faster and stronger than you will ever be. He is immortal, so debilitating pain is more useful than attempted disanimation. He is most likely to go for your neck in a frontal assault. And he is easily distracted by damage to his clothing or personal toilette.”
“That’s four things, Professor,” corrected Monique.
“Don’t be pert, whot,” replied the vampire.
“Are you saying,” Sophronia ventured, “that it’s best to go for the waistcoat? Say, douse it with tea? Or possibly wipe sticky hands on his coat sleeve?”
“Exactly! Very good, Miss Temminnick. Nothing is more distressing to a vampire than a stain. Why do you think containing blood is so important to us? One of the tragedies of any vampire’s life is that in order to survive we must continually handle such an embarrassingly sticky fluid.”
Etiquette & Espionage’s tone and overall feel was not at all what I was expecting, thanks to the dramatic cover art. It was a fun, droll, rollicking good old time through an awesome steampunk world. I found a few things unclear and confusing, but for the most part it was good fun through and through.
You can buy this here: Etiquette & Espionage