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Monday, February 4, 2013

Review: Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published: February 5, 2013
Pages: 320
Source: For Review from Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 5 Stars

It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to finishing school.
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.

In short: Etiquette & Espionage gets the plot, characters, and whimsical tone just right and I am now smitten with Gail Carriger.
So, I may have a new author crush. Gail Carriger is best known for her Parasol Protectorate series and while I always hear amazing things about it, I am, as always, wary when it comes to adult books. When I heard she would be writing a new YA series - set in the same universe as her Parasol Protectorate series - and when I saw the absolutely STUNNING cover for Etiquette & Espionage, I knew I needed to read it. And that's when I found out that Gail Carriger is a brilliant and clever author with a talent for humourous writing, vibrant characters, and fast-paced entertaining plots. And I was smitten.

Etiquette & Espionage is like a parody of a Victorian Era novel, complete with over exaggerated ideals of strict morality, restrained sexuality, and refined sensibilities. When Sophronia, a young lady of fourteen years, is picked to attend Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, what she doesn't know is that it is no ordinary finishing school. She is to learn to be an intelligencer - Victorian Lady-style.

It is beyond me how hours upon hours of class time could be spent just to master the art of fainting gracefully, fluttering eyelashes seductively, and blushing prettily on command, but that makes up the bulk of Sophronia's schooling, along with history classes with her vampire professor and fighting classes with her werewolf professor. Hilarious. I feel like it takes serious skill to get whimsy right as an author. Because anyone can do weird and silly, but whimsy takes a certain amount of cleverness and Gail Carriger got it just right.

As you might imagine by the humourous tone of the plot, the characters are similarly quirky and cartoonish and all together brilliant. They have names like Mrs. Barnaclegoose, Lord Dingleproops, and Mr. Shrimpdittle (snort). I seriously LOVED every single one of them. Sophronia is a bold and sensible protagonist who is well suited to a career as an intelligencer due to her curious and adventurous tendencies. All secondary characters that make up her ragtag group of friends are similarly loveable and memorable. There is the barest hint of a playful romance blossoming in Etiquette & Espionage that is sure to develop over the course of the series, involving Sophronia and a guy nicknamed Soap who is - GASP - black. And a lower class sootie to boot! Scandal.

It is possible that had I been in a more critical mood, I might have found some fault with Etiquette & Espionage. But I was in the exact mood for it and honestly, Etiquette & Espionage isn't a book that takes itself seriously so the reader shouldn't either. I admit some bias in my love for Etiquette & Espionage because it had a vague semblance to Harry Potter - a quirky boarding school, fun and cartoonish characters, a general whimsical atmosphere. Sounds good, right? You should read it!

Other Reviews:
Cozy Up With A Good Read
Megan Likes Books
Reading In Winter

Authors Links:


  1. I was going to start this one last week but I just couldn't get into it. For some reason I never have any luck with steampunk! I have seen so many people loving this lately so I am definitely sad to be the black sheep here. I love the way that you describe the book though as a sort of parody. Maybe I will have to pick this one up again at some point because you make it sound awesome. Fantastic review!

  2. I'm so happy you loved it, Aylee! It was a great read and a wonderful introduction to Gail's work ... I can't wait to start her other series now. :) I also think this is a decent introduction to the steampunk genre, perfect for newbies!

  3. I agree Aylee, if you're in the mood to read critically, there's definitely a lot to pick on with this book, but if you're in the mood for something fun, it's perfect. I had a blast reading this (though I do wish she was a touch older so we could have a little romance - I love romance!), and the names made me snort every other page. I think Lord Dingleproops was my favorite. *dies*

  4. Every book that reminds me, even if it is a bit, of Harry Potter is a book I HAVE to read. This book sounds delicious. From the quirky characters with the most amazing names I've seen in a book so far, to the plot of this book. I haven't read her other books yet, but I really want to, and this might be my first introduction with her writing-style. You definitely made me even more excited about this book! *Looks dreamy at the cover*


  5. Parody, huh? I guess Carriger continues to do what she does best. I was a HUGE fan of her Parasol Protectorate series and it seems that this one follows the same path. I'm starting it today and I'll probably be done by tomorrow. Can't wait to compare notes. :)

  6. I love quirky characters! They are so much fun to read about. Glad you enjoyed this!

  7. I'm so glad you liked this one. I am officially a fan of Gail Carriger after this one. Plus she may be coming to Edmonton in November!

  8. This sounds so good!!! I don't know why I haven't tried her Parasol Protectorate series before. I need to rectify this as soon as I can so I can read this one. Since it's set in the same world... but maybe I should just read this one (:

  9. Wait, this one was released today?! I feel like I've been waiting ages for it!

    I haven't read the Parasol Protectorate series either but I know it has a lot of fans and added this one to my wishlist as soon as I heard about it. I'm so glad it lived up to your expectations, Aylee. It sounds like such a fun read!

  10. This sounds absolutely adorable. I really like the cover, it's very tongue in cheek. Looking at it I wouldn't have thought it was a YA novel. I am very glad you liked it.

  11. I have seen this around, so I'm glad to read a review of it. It seems like something I would enjoy - historical + parody. Love it!

    Kate @ Ex Libris

  12. I definitely had fun reading this book, and it is great that the book doesn't take itself seriously, but I felt like I was missing out on something. I hope the rest of the series clears up some questions for me. I do love the covers, they show the fun of the story. Great review! (And thanks for linking to my review :D)

  13. When this first came out, I was intrigued right away - if a little unsure whether it would be something I'd enjoy. Your review makes me think I'd really like this one so I'm moving it up the reading list. I like the humor you mention & that HP reference sealed the deal :D Thanks for the great review Aylee ♥

  14. I'm happy you liked it Aylee!! From the summary it sounded like your kind of book and you even made it sound like the kind I like too!!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  15. I'm actually of the opposite opinion here, Aylee. I also want to read something by Gail Carringer, but I think I'd like to start with her Parasol Protectorate series. That series is complete (I think) and I wonder if she prefers to write for adults, since she wrote that series first. Plus it'll be nice to have other books to immediately start reading in that series. I do love the idea of a Victorian Era parody and I'm pretty sure I'll end up reading this new series too, since so many people seem to be enjoying it.

  16. I have this waiting for me at the library so after this review, I'm even MORE excited to read it! It sounds super fun and quick to read. I love that you say it's like a parody!

  17. This sounds like something really different. I think I'd really like it, mainly because of the boarding school. Its sounding like a mesh of historical fantasy fiction with paranormal aspects. Wow! How fun. Great review. I like "whimsical". Looking forward to buying my copy soon. Great review, Aylee.

  18. I need to find this book! They didn't have it at my local bookstore yet when I went in to buy Scarlet! I read Soulless and really enjoyed the quirky sense of humor and crazy cast of characters.

    I'll definitely have to keep in mind Harry Potter as I'm reading it because I can definitely see that comparison. And yes, whimsy is hard to pull off, and I can't wait to see Carriger do it in this book :)

    So glad you loved this one! Can't wait to read it!
    Lauren @ Hughes Reviews

  19. It seems like everyone is loving this book! The characters sound absolutely fabulous. I'll definitely have to check this one out.

    Fantastic review! :)

  20. Okay, I couldn't take anymore of your gushiness over this book even if you paid me in soft serve vanilla by the gallons. Or cheesecake (no funny business, that wasn't an idea plant). Now you've got me all bothered and curious about it and JUST WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW, AYLEE?!

    It IS such a prettily covered book too...

    Oh, Hades!

  21. Ah this sounds just delightful! I'm definitely checking this out after your praises! I've been seeing this book around but your review has really caught my interest. Beautifully written!

  22. I keep picking this up and then putting it down to read another book, but it sounds like it really is good so I might have to read this after I finish my current one. Plus, I have the other two books on my kindle for after. Nice job Aylee.

  23. Such a good review, Aylee! I seriously love how you covered the whimsy and romance and how generally fantastic this series is. I'd say that this, the first book, would be my least favourite, simply because I wasn't as invested as I could have been in the plot, characters and the build up, but I love where this series has gone. Are you planning on reading Carriger's adult series now? xx

    1. Ooh yes, I've been thinking about it because folk seem to adore her adult series too!