Etiquette & Espionage

August 19, 2017

Finishing School #1. Author: Gail Carriger.


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 a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners–and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, young ladies learn to finish…everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but the also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage–in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year’s education.

My Thoughts:

Total fluff, but really fun. The perfect thing for some really light back-to-school reading to get back into studying mode. In this paranormal steampunk setting young Victorian ladies are going to a floating finishing school to learn proper etiquette, from the different curtsies, to how to put on a dinner party, to how to take their target down with the least fuss.

Wait, what?

Young ladies from Madame Geraldine’s school are polite, poised, and poisonous. They learn exactly how to fit into their place in society, what everyone expects and how to fulfill it, and- how to wield underestimations and appearances to their own ends. Graduates often marry into the highest society, fully equipped as intelligencers, spies, or even assassins. And Sophronia, our main character, is the perfect candidate, even if she did start a little later than other recruits. Within a week of school opening she’s climbing around on the ship, exploring the furthest out-of-bound reaches of her school, and pulling a few covert intelligence operations even outside of homework. When she does get caught, she’s in trouble… for being so careless as to be seen.

The paranormal aspect: well, this was basically the first book I ever read that featured werewolves and vampires, so it rather shocked my relatives. The funny thing? This is the tamest, most-restrained paranormal book I’ve seen. Werewolves and vampires are both fully integrated into society, with their own etiquette rules and societal norms, and (at least in this book) there’s absolutely no rampaging or hunting. I actually liked the way Carriger did that, because it added a bit of variety without abandoning all familiarity.

The prose is simpler than I prefer, although this makes sense, given that the narrator is a fourteen-year old girl. There’s no real effort to be serious about any of it; lots of high-jinks and unrealistic shenanigans, and of course plentiful delightful steam-punk inventions that don’t really make any sense. So, as I said before; total fluff, but if you’re looking for a light, funny read this is great.

Content Review:

Sexual Content: ‘The combination of the hair, the jewelry, and the dress made her look quite the scandal, as though she were in training to become a lady of the night.’/ ‘Sophronia suspected that many of the sighs and a good deal of the titillation came from the certain knowledge that he was entirely naked beneath that coat’./ Some of the girls are instructed to store handkerchiefs in their ‘decolletage’, which leads to some commenting on various sizes./ Minor flirting.

Language: 1 d***, 1 arse

Violence: Flywaymen (Highwaymen) hold up a carriage with guns – one of them strikes a woman across the face while questioning her. Bullet grazes character’s shoulder. Girl stabs a teacher with a sharpened stick during training; he’s a paranormally fast healer. Dirigibles fire on each other with cannon. It should be noted that some of the girls are training to be assassins, and lessons in poisons, knives, and such reflect this.

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