Gail Carriger

Etiquette & Espionage

Etiquette & Espionage – Gail Carriger; 2013

Continuing in my efforts to read “fun/light” things, I finished Gail Carriger’s Etiquette & Espionage.  This is a young-adult novel published in early 2013.  It is the first novel in the Finishing School series. Overall, I really think the concept is good.  I like the idea of a “finishing school” that is actually an espionage school – yet does not neglect the etiquette part of the schooling.  I think that Carriger is a witty and insightful author – and more than anything, she hands-down knows her subject and background. 

Carriger is the pen-name of Tofa Borregaard.  She has several academic degrees and writes novels.  She also seems to dress the part – as she dabbles in history and fashion of the (what seems to be) Victorian era.  In all cases, she has a charming smile and seems to do well with fans. I read the first novel in her first series (Parasol Protectorate) and enjoyed it.  I found it humorous and entertaining. 

I like the main character in Etiquette & Espionage.  I also like the supporting characters.  There’s a good variety of different characters which suit the storyline.  Carriger even includes some of the vampire/werewolf items which now seem mandatory in all young adult books.  Thankfully, these characters are not written in the same way as in other books.  The focus is on the humans and their adventures.  Also, no one sparkled (except a young lass at the school named Dimity, who really loves jewelry).

The characters are charming.  The story starts off wonderfully, immediately capturing the reader’s interest.  The main character, Sophronia Temminnick, is an astute and sharp character.  She is a hassle to her socialite family, and her mother is pleased that a finishing school is interested in taking Sophronia off of her hands and perhaps turning her into a calm and reasonable young woman.  Sophronia, of course, is not completely thrilled with the idea of finishing school, but she is not exactly overwhelmed with freedom and fun at home. 

Naturally, when Sophronia arrives at the finishing school she does not fit in.  She is too rugged and wild.  But her smarts get her through and she manages to win over the hearts of several of the other girls at the school.  As well as make a few enemies. And, as the storyline progresses, Sophronia learns to enjoy the espionage she is studying and she also is gradually learning social graces and etiquette, as well.

All of that is very fine and good.  However, the whole finishing school is a dirigible that floats over Dartmoor.  There are mechanimals – steam-powered animals and mechmaids and mechbutlers – which are steam-powered robots that clean and work on board the dirigible.  I know that this series is set in the same overall world as the Parasol Protectorate.  So, I supposed it must include a variety of the same things.  But, honestly, I feel like the Steampunk stuff actually did not help the story.  I, frankly, would have enjoyed the concept if we left out most, if not all, of the steampunk stuff.  Maybe that’s just because I am a cantankerous philosopher, but I still think the idea is good – but it was slightly overworked for this novel.

Just a mention of the cover – I like it.  It does look “girly,” but it also has an element to it that makes you wonder what this book is about. I bet I will be reading the second installment when that is released.

3 stars

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Soulless

SoullessSoulless by Gail Carriger was published in 2009 by Orbit.  It is the first book of the “Parasol Protectorate” series starring, I assume, the character Alexia Tarabotti. My copy came with a small interview with the author and I went to her website.  Ms. Carriger is amusing and witty. Honestly, the novel itself is neither erudite or exceedingly intelligent, I feel like Carriger could easily write much more intelligent novels.  However, I’m not sure she really needs to. After all, I found this novel to be rather entertaining.

The basic idea of the novel is that since the “dark ages,” Europe (especially England) has come to terms with the existence of supernaturals – and the supernaturals have mostly integrated into the normal society.  The Crown has advisors who are supernaturals and help her to make national decisions.  Many of the upper crust of society contains both normals and supernaturals – including the supporting main character, Lord Macon, who is a werewolf.  Werewolves live in packs lead by alphas (Lord Macon is an alpha) and live in districts/counties.  Lord Macon also runs the BUR, which is a department which monitors supernatural activity in the district.

It has been said that this novel is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.  That is probably true.  This is basically a spoof of “Victorian ideals” and the current obsession with Vampires and Werewolves in mass media entertainment. Carriger writes a very funny spoof. It’s not entirely intended as a spoof, of course. However, it was amusing enough to read the interactions between Alexia and the “upper-crust” of society as well as the interactions between the servants of the vampire/werewolf community.

Alexia is a fun character because she is stubborn and outspoken. She doesn’t fit into the society like she should and she possesses a lot more bravery and knowledge than her peers.  This is what attracts her to Lord Macon – and he to her. The sex in the book is really comical, a bit too much of it for my tastes – even though it’s not entirely graphic.

I would like to read the next book in the series.  It probably will not be just more of the same, because the end of Soulless leaves Alexia in some interesting circumstances and I’d be interested in seeing what happens next.  It’s not something that I am really burning to read, but I suppose for a light read that would be fine. Carriger obviously has a well-developed sense of humor and can channel classic English novels into a light novel.

3 stars