Review: Finishing School Books 1 & 2

Finishing School Books 1 & 2, Gail Carriger

Amanda

Etiquette & Espionage

Hardcover, 307 pages

Published February 5th 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Source: NetGalley

10874177From Goodreads…

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 is my first forray into reading steampunk– what is steampunk you may ask?  Wikipedia says its a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century.”  Examples might be Jules Verne or the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  So we’re in Victorian England, with characters in horse drawn carriages yet being followed by steam powered dirigibles.  Are you confused too?  Kind of quirky and bizarre-but also fun because you can’t quite take it seriously.

Our heroine Sophronia is sent in disgrace to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.  She’s shocked to learn the faculty include a vampire and a werewolf, but even more shocked when her classes include poisoning and weapons.  Sophronia is an odd mixture of propriety and rebelliousness which made her fun to read about.  Also, she’s going to a school that flies-can you get much cooler?  I love that she’s fearless enough to be jumping from deck to deck to explore.

Maybe its just me, but there was something about the format of this book that made it feel almost like a watered down version of Harry Potter. Exhibit A: Strong Willed adolescent who finds her way all over school at night without repercussions. Exhibit B: A teacher who is probably watching, but not disciplining the student-instead letting the student solve a mystery.  Exhibit C: Interaction with the oppressed “sooties” who fly the school -as misused as house elves nearly.  Anyone else read this and see what I mean?

What was really original was the way Mademoiselle Geraldine’s seemed to be teaching these young ladies to use their femininity as a strength which to me would be complete counterintuitive to Victorian sensibilities.  I dig that!  I was a bit confused with the Picklemen and Evil Geniuses coming to play-but I did still enjoy Etiquette & Espionage in the end.

3 stars for potential!

I was entertained enough that I jumped straight into book 2…

15723286Curtsies & Conspiracies

Hardcover, 310 pages

Published November 2013 by Hachette Little, Brown & Co

Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests? Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests?

Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy (won’t Mumsy be surprised?). Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners.

Now, as she sneaks around the flying school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot–one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot-and survive the London Season with a full dance card.

I have to say I was much more into C&C right off the bat.  The steampunk world wasn’t quite as foreign and I was excited to see Sophronia get back to school and adventure.  Aspects of the mystery in Etiquette and Espionage continued into this book, but without having to go back and repeat all the details which was good. There was also a bit of a darker tone to this book which surprised me.  Sophronia realizes that there’s an end to school coming and she’ll have to pick a side when she’s done.  She employs the techniques she’s learned at finishing school to meddle with other’s lives and has to deal with the repercussions.  I’m really curious to see how this has affected her in Waistcoats & Weaponry.

What I did not like about this was the love triangle set up and all of the focus on courting.  They’re 14 for goodness sake! The interplay between a future Duke and a sootie-the racial tension, the class tension came across as awkward to me.  I know marriage was something girls had to worry about early, but something was just off for me here. I hope this is less of an issue in book #3.  I actually really like Soap, the sootie, so I hope too that we continue to see him.

Last note-how gorgeous are these covers! I love them!

Thank you NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for these copies in exchange for an honest opinion!

I’m about to dive into Waistcoats and Weaponry which will be published next week.  Any steampunk fans with suggestions of another book to try?

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