Curtsies & Conspiracies. Finishing School, Book the Second by Gail Carriger. Little, Brown and Company, 2013.
The students of the steampunk finishing school for future lady assassins of quality return in this second book in the series. Sophronia and the other first-year students are up against their first exams. When Sophronia does better than everyone else, she suddenly finds that none of her classmates will talk to her any more – not even her best friend Dimity. Sophronia’s natural reaction is to spend more time sneaking around, meeting her friend Soap in the engines and young genius Vieve. Then the girls are joined by some of the boys from the rival evil genius school, including handsome goth boy Felix Mersey. There’s a mysterious trip to London, codes hidden in embroidered throw pillows, and more mysteries that only Sophronia and her friends can solve.
I had two issues with this book. First, too much of the plot was resolved by meetings with characters who are central to her previously published adult trilogy (which starts with Soulless), but who are barely introduced here. It made sense to me, since I’ve read them, but I’m not sure that it would make as much sense to people who haven’t. Since this series is aimed at a younger audience, it needs to work on its own. Secondly, this book spends a lot of time on Sophronia’s two would-be beaux, pitting her best male friend Soap, whom she doesn’t see in a romantic light because of the large class difference, against the mysterious and untrustworthy Lord Felix Mersey. But as Sophronia makes it quite clear that she’s not ready for any romance yet, the whole thing seems a waste of time.
Those problems aside, this is still a very fun steampunk romp, full of intrigue, gadgets, and the importance of understanding the complicated rules of etiquette. I’ll still check in with the next volume, and hope the wrinkles in this one are ironed out.