Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Spotlight: Etiquette and Espionage (Finishing School, Book 1) by Gail Carriger

Salut, Beardies!

If you felt the earth shake this Labor Day weekend, it might have had something to do with the fact that your Bearded Scribe editors did something we haven’t done since our days together at Alma College—sat down and worked together in the same room. An epic reunion years in the making, it included scenic tours of beautiful Atlanta, writing, lots of coffee, and my very first taste of the awesomeness that is Dragon*Con. Seeing all the fantastic steampunk costumes at Dragon*Con put me in the mood to write about steampunk. Luckily, I recently finished a great steampunk read!

It’s 1851 in a London where robots do household chores, and would-be mechanic Sophronia is a great disappointment to her mother. After a particularly embarrassing incident involving pudding, a malfunctioning dumbwaiter, and a distinguished guest at tea, Sophronia’s mother is fed up. In despair, she packs her youngest daughter off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. From the start, though, it’s clear that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is much more than a finishing school—the young ladies are also taught the fine art of espionage. What’s more, criminals target the school in search of a mysterious prototype from the labs, and a conniving student who failed her final assignment has her sights set on getting Sophronia expelled.

Watch the Trailer!
Gems for Writers:
World-Building. Etiquette and Espionage is the first book in a spin-off from Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate Series, but the author does not assume that the reader is already familiar with the world. Instead, all the trappings of her version of 1851 London are clearly established in this story. In addition to all the hallmarks of a great steampunk story, Carriger adds a paranormal twist, as vampires and werewolves are accepted members of society. All of this could be too much detail for one book, but Carriger handles the details with ease and finesse, creating a highly believable world.

Setting. The setting of Etiquette and Espionage is unique in that, apart from a few chapters at the beginning and end, the story takes place entirely on an airship. Carriger uses the confined space of her setting to great effect. It adds suspense to sequences wherein Sophronia and her friends sneak into forbidden areas of the school and must find hiding places in tight quarters. The unusual setting also provides an opportunity for the insertion of fun, quirky details, like the fact that the school can only have a certain number of students at any given time due to weight restrictions.

Characterization. From mechanical maids and pets to a cross-dressing female mechanic and many, many girls bucking the conventions of society, there are no unmemorable characters at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. All of the characters are fully developed, and even the minor ones have traits that make them stand out from the background. I quickly made friends with Sophronia and her classmates, and that makes me all the more eager to read the sequel.


Etiquette and Espionage is a great start to a promising series, and a fun steampunk romp in a richly-developed world. I’m eager to read the sequel, Curtsies and Conspiracieswhich is currently slated for publication in November of this year.

Until next time, Keep Calm and Scribe On!

***Etiquette and Espionage (Finishing School, Book One) (2013) by Gail Carriger is published by and copyright Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. It is available in stores, online (see above), and from your local public library.  

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