Finally a new steampunk book from the inimitable Carriger – this time for teens.
Etiquette & Espionage. Finishing School Book the First. by Gail Carriger.
This book starts a new series, set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate series, but some years earlier. Sophronia Angelina Temminnick, aged 14 or 15, spends most of her time in the stables or taking household machinery apart. She’s horrified when her mother decides to send her to finishing school, packing her off within an hour of hearing of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. In the carriage, she meets Dimity Ann Plumleigh-Teignmott, also headed to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, and her younger brother Pillover, who is going to Bunson and Lacroix’s Boys’ Polytechnique. She soon learns that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is no ordinary finishing school – as is obvious the moment she discovers it’s a school floating above the moors. She will indeed be taught how to curtsey and dance along with the best, but also how to include poison in her dinner budget and discreetly do off with only some of her guests. Right at the beginning, she learns of a missing prototype – an older classmate, Monique, has “mislaid” it, and both the teachers and some sky pirates are after it. Sophronia sets out to solve the mystery herself with assistance from Dimity, a coal shoveler named Soap with a winning smile and African dark skin under the coal dust, and Vieve, the young cross-dressing daughter of one of the teachers. Those familiar with the earlier series will recognize Sidheag and brief mentions of the Westminster Hive and Connal. There is adventure, humor, and the beginnings of a sweet cross-class interracial romance. Sophronia may be willing to bend societal expectations as far as associating with people of different classes, but Victorian propriety keeps any budding romance at a level appropriate for much younger than today’s teens, and certainly at a level where the romance doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the story. All in all, Carriger does not disappoint. Fans and those wishing to introduce teens or older middle-grade students to the pleasures of steampunk would do well to look into it.