[Book review] Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger.

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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 they 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.

Goodreads

As I said when I mentioned listening to this, I love Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series and this bears many of the same marks – witty dialogue, the intriguing Victorian steampunk setting (which is not normally my thing), and the cast’s ridiculously over-the-top affectations.

This book falls short of its predecessors in some ways, though. It’s apparently written for younger audiences and it shows – the plot isn’t as exciting or as epic as Parasol Protectorate‘s -nothing really happens- and the characters are mostly one-dimensional (the most extreme being the supremely unlikeable Monique de Pelouse) and caricatural.

While the book itself would be a middling borrow (if that), the audiobook is much more delightful due to the amazing narration of Moira Quirk. She pulls off Carriger’s quirky prose with aplomb, throwing up distinct voice after distinct voice, hammering in the funnier parts of the dialogue with satirical effusiveness, and infusing the characters with more, well, character than they frankly deserve. For that, the audio version of this title merits a buy.

It remains to be seen, though, how much better the series will (hopefully) get. After all, jokes and great voices can only go so far.

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