April 26, 2013

TURNING PAGES: Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger

I frequently complain about the plethora of authors switching tracks from adult books to YA novels, and not bringing their best game.

This is not one of those complaints.

Sophronia took a deep breath. " What, precisely, will I be expected to learn here?"

Lady Linette twirled one curl of blonde hair around the tip of one finger. "Information gathering and object retrieval, of course. But mostly, you should learn how to finish."

"Finish what, exactly?"

"Why, anything or anyone who needs finishing, my dear."

Reader Gut Reaction: This novel is, in a word, a romp. It is a perfect park/beach read: fast-paced, lighthearted, quirky, funny, and bursting with new-things-per-page. These are the elements of a winning piece of fiction. It has steampunk with real and workable mechanicals, sooties, dirigibles, and ...wait, werewolves? VAMPIRES!? Is this actually steampunk? Actually... yes.

Concerning Character: Fourteen-year-old Sophronia Temminick is not much of a lady. She has a rather mechanical mind, and the first thing she always wonders about seeing something is if she can take it apart, and put it back together... and, mostly the answer is, she can't. She also can't courtesy, doesn't watercolor, and arrives with filthy hems to tea. The worst thing is, her mother will tell of her embarrassing child to ANYONE who will listen. Anyone. Even strangers just come to call. Sophronia isn't even Out, but already she's such a shame and a trial to her entire family that, before her older sister makes her bows to society, and it is decided that Sophronia cannot be on hand to cause a problem. On the advice of a particularly LOATHSOME and meddling female neighbor, Mrs. Barnaclegoose, it's off with Sophronia -- to finishing school.

A worse fate cannot be imagined. Soph does NOT want to go to Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality; she's perfectly happy with the finish she has - or, at least the start she's gotten. She's indignant but she's bustled out the door so fast - on the heels of her latest disgrace, which involves India rubber from the dumbwaiter and ripping her skirt entirely off - that she hasn't really got time to protest. Plus, she's a little bit intrigued. A tiny bit. Mademoiselle Geraldine is wearing a wig. And, she seems to Sophronia to be a bit peculiar...

Once on the road in the fancy black coach there are more discoveries - a pair of siblings, one of whom will be greatly useful, the other a dear and trusted friend; a fake and a potential enemy, flyway robbery, the loss of her scanty luggage, and handling a coach for the first time. All this provides a great deal of excitement before Sophronia gets to the school - which turns out to be a gigantic dirigible. When she meets the werewolf porter, the vampire etiquette master, and the fine gang of "sooties" employed to keep the mechanicals and the steam engines fit and running, the real fun begins.

Sophronia's mama only thought her daughter had a genius for trouble. Once she learns the three D's - death, diversion, and deceit - the rudiments of proper lash fluttering, how to use her handkerchief as a distraction, and how to turn a courtesy into a quick forward roll, leaving her hands free to throw a knife - then she'll really know how to make trouble...like a lady: asking questions first, shooting afterward, and flawlessly pouring the tea.

Recommended for Fans Of...: ANY of the Gallagher Girls spy novels, by Ally Carter; ALSO KNOWN AS, by Robin Benway; THE AGENCY novels and sequels by Y.S. Lee; the BAD KITTY novels and sequels by Michelle Jaffe; KIKI STRIKE books and sequels, by Kirsten Miller and THE SQUAD books, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Cover Chatter: There are several things a lady ALWAYS must have with her: her handkerchief. A ribbon. A good pair of scissors. All of them will come in quite, quite handy for garrotting someone, or, merely tying up a hostage, or one's hair. I don't think the scissors have to be quite as large as the pair on the cover, but... well. They do look very useful, don't they?

More than anything else, I like the backdrop against which the cover model stands; aside from the harmonious visual contrast of black and fuchsia, those are airships and cogwheels and gears making up that wallpaper. I like that there are real people doing real experiments with mechanical things, and there are tiny bits of symbolism on uniforms and around the airship that show up in Carriger's later books. It all ties together nicely...

Prequel, Sequel: YA vs. Adult Asides:...speaking of previous Carriger books, some readers have Decided Opinions about this YA branch of the Carriger book tree. I have to say that I found her adult books amusing, but there was a GREAT DEAL crammed into the plots of her adult books, and sometimes the romance seemed to me like Just One Thing More teetering - sometimes less successfully than I wanted - on the top. This novel has zero romance, but a warm friendship/proto-romance, witty dialogue, fast-paced action, and a great deal of fun characters whose dopplegangers (if not their outright selves) pop up twenty-five years hence in SOULLESS, which make it fun for older MG up through teen and adult. It isn't as "Wodehousian" as Carriger's adult novels, but it has plenty of great dialogue, heart and charm; for me, more so than the adult novels do. You can't beat a Carriger book for a beach read, and I look forward to more.

I found my book at the library. You can find ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE by GAIL CARRIGER online, or at an independent bookstore near you!


LinWash said...

And I'm in the market for a fun read so this just might do. I wondered about it.

Gail Gauthier said...

I liked the "Soulless" series. I knew Carriger had done a YA book, and I was interested in reading it, but I didn't realize there would be a connection with the adult series. That only makes it more interesting for me.

tanita✿davis said...

@ Lin: I think it's a GREAT weekend read - fun to read between loads of laundry or whatnot.

@ Gail: I didn't finish the SOULLESS series - don't know why I was never alerted to the publication of the last book! - but I think the plot was starting to creak at the seams once the steampunk race-around-the-countryside elements were added. This is an almost necessary spin-off; the steampunk is now getting its due.