Reviewed by: Megan S. of StellarFour.com
Rating (out of 5): 4 stars
Fourteen year old Sophronia Temminnick would much rather scale the inside of a dumbwaiter than concern herself with this season’s most fashionable dresses. It’s because of this attitude that her harried mother sends her off to a finishing school for young ladies of quality. It’s also because of this attitude that Sophronia has been covertly recruited to a finishing school where students secretly learn garrote their victims as well as perfect their curtsies on a dirigible floating just above the cities of Victorian England.
Welcome to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy.
Daredevil Sophronia doesn’t give much thought as to what exactly will be required of her once she graduates from the academy. Instead, she happily embraces the deadly curriculum that’s turning her understanding of the world on it’s head, as she plunges feet first into the mysteries she stumbles upon. She and her new friends must find where the class mean girl has stashed a secret weapon before it falls into the hands of the dastardly Picklemen, survive the perils of the social complexities of nineteenth century England, and deal with her burgeoning feelings for a boy, feelings which could cause quite the scandal if anyone were to find out.
The promising new young adult book by Gail Carriger Etiquette & Espionage is the latest addition to her steampunk Parasol Protectorate world. Sophronia’s a plucky young heroine and Carriger’s done an excellent job of fleshing out the world even more. E&E is definitely age appropriate, but it’s still a great read for adults. I admit, though, I did find myself concentrating more on the details Carriger included about class differences and the rules for social interaction than the mystery.
The differences between Sophronia and each of her motley crew of friends is where I got swept up in the story. The main character is a young upper-middle class white female in Victorian London and she’s falling for a lower-class young black man named Soap, a member of the school’s crew working on the engines. In a world where wearing last season’s dress is an embarrassment, social interaction crossing class and race is all but unheard of. Sophronia also makes friends with (small spoiler alert) Vieve, who until mid way through the story, she assumed was a boy but turned out to be a little girl in drag. Her last close friend and roommate Dimity is also less alike than our girl than one would think. She’s just as privileged as Sophronia, but she enjoys the more traditional interests and roles girls of that age were expected to embrace. The dichotomies each of the supporting characters pose is, I think, what adult readers will enjoy the most.
I’m definitely looking forward to the second book in the series of four books. I’m hoping next time Sophronia will delve into the mysteries of the backgrounds of the teachers and the school itself. There are so many interesting nooks and crannies on that ship and I want to be right there with our heroine, exploring them all.
Sexual Content: I’m sure every young lady in the book would swoon at such a brazen question! (Sorry kids, there isn’t even a kiss for our Sophronia.)