on February 5, 2013
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.
Other than the short THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE WEREWOLF THAT WASN’T… this first book in the Finishing School series is also the first book in the entire Parasol-verse by Gail Carriger (chronologically). While each of the series can be read separately, they are each part of a larger universe spanning decades in a steampunk themed set full of manners, the supernatural, and witty banter for the record books.
Carriger’s stand out quality in all of her books is her humor, which maintains propriety even as it wanders into ridiculousness. Her YA series (Finishing School) is no different, and really lays the groundwork for both humor and story in later series’ (though I believe it was completed AFTER Parasol Protectorate).
Those who have read Carriger’s adult series will recognize names and some backstory from Finishing School, but they can be read in either order or completely separate. This series, set before Parasol, follows Sophronia, a covert recruit for a finishing school for spies and assassins which call themselves “Intellegencers”. Fans of Cindy Anstey are right in their wheelhouse here, but with an added steampunk and supernatual flair.
Sophronia is strong, sassy, and utterly loyal. She’s certainly not a lady by any stretch at the beginning of her journey. It’s fun to watch her evolve here, and continue throughout the series. She is well rounded and complex, as are most of the characters throughout the book. Carriger is certainly concerned with details, both in her characters and her setting.
Than manners and protocol of her time period (with added steampunk and supernatural elements) are spot on and lend themselves to a lot of the humor of the book. Flung food for instance is much funnier when it’s effects are hysterical enemies and confused onlookers. Each joke is a bit of a wink and a nod, coaxing you to follow along with the ridiculousness without comment. Afterall, a character dubbed Mrs. Barnaclegoose is both hilarious (but also inappropriate to remark upon) and fairly normal for the naming conventions of Carriger’s world.
I ave read and reviewed this book before, but both age and the different reading format (audiobook) have changed my opinions a bit. I appreciate the humor a lot more, partially due to being older but also because of narrator Moira Quirk’s delivery. Her accents, her humor, and her willingness to just go for it in her performances lend the books the extra bit of style. So much so in fact that I listened to all 4 straight in a row.
I highly recommend these books if you enjoy comedies of manners, quirky characters of humor, and weird supernatural steampunk. Really, Carriger is in a class of her own but fans of the spy aspects of Cindy Anstey’s books will enjoy these as well (note that Victorian and Regency periods ARE different).
What’s your favorite bookish universe? Share yours in the comments.
From my shelf to yours,