by Gail Carriger
(Little, Brown, $17.99)
Reviewed by Ealish Waddell
Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is bold, adventurous and, in her mother’s own words, a “cracking great bother.” It’s not really much of a surprise that she’d find herself sent to finishing school. It’s the school itself that defies expectation.
To begin with, Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is an airship, suspended under giant balloons above the foggy moors. Its staff includes a vampire and werewolf. The schedule includes classes on not just dancing and deportment, but also deception, poison-making and knife-throwing. It turns out that the students won’t be the only ones being finished around here.
Sophronia loves it. She makes friends all over the ship, including a resourceful sootie from the engine room called Soap, and Vieve, a junior mechanical genius. But she makes enemies as well, like the vicious and cagey Monique, who seems to know something about the mysterious missing “prototype” that teachers, pirates and shadowy government agents alike are after. A semester of schemes and secrets culminates in a covert battle at Sophronia’s first fancy ball, in which all her newfound skills of fan-waving, eyelash-fluttering and villain-vanquishing will be put to the test.
“Etiquette & Espionage” shares the same setting as Carriger’s earlier “Parasol Protectorate” series: a pseudo-Victorian steampunky England where the supernatural coexists with the mundane. It’s an inventive and whimsical place, populated by people with names like Mrs. Barnaclegoose and Lord Dingleproops, and peppered with marvels like clockwork butlers, tiny steam-powered pet dachshunds and exploding wicker chickens.
With relatable characters, daring escapades and a hint of young romance, this is the first book of a new series that promises to be a lot of fun.