Etiquette & Espionage is my latest foray into the world of audiobooks, and I gotta say, after finishing this one I feel that I should be speaking in a British accent.
Carriger’s YA novel was a lot of fun! I had read her adult mystery, Soulless, but never finished the series. The YA book caught my eye and brought back everything I enjoyed about Soulless.
Set in the same world as Soulless, Etiquette & Espionage focuses on Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing School for Young Ladies of Quality. However, when Miss Sophronia Temminnick is unexpectedly enrolled, she soon finds out there is a great deal more involved in “finishing” than the normal expectations for young ladies. It seems Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is a school training it’s young charges to become not only ladies, but intelligencers as well; not even the headmistress knows. Fourteen year old Sophronia is thrust into this new world of both ladylike behaviour and covert techniques, a world that suits her well. Indeed Sophronia exceeds her classmates in that she’s quite willing to start her own investigation soon after her arrival at school. Her fellow classmate, Monique, has hidden “the prototype” and refuses to give it up; Sophronia would very much like to get to the bottom of this mystery, and put her new spying skills to the test.
Etiquette & Espionage was a FUN read. It’s not a novel that you can take too seriously, and I don’t think it’s meant to. The classes that the students are taught are unbelievable, yet wholly entertaining. Lady Linette, one of Sophronia’s professors, offers both superficial and practical advice:
“Lady Linette says style is everything; one’s shoes are as important as one’s thoughts, and possibly more powerful in the correct context” (p. 89)
I always knew you couldn’t have too many shoes!
I also particularly liked how the author explored the supernaturals in the story. Sophronia and her classmates are taught both by a werewolf (knife fighting) and a vampire (vampire lore and defense). The vampire, Professor Braithwope was by far the most entertaining professor and I loved his advice to the ladies on how to defend yourself against a vampire:
“When defending yourself against a vampire,” said Professor Braithwope at the start of the lesson, “it is important to remember three things, whot? He is a good deal faster and stronger than you will ever be. He is immortal, so debilitating pain is more useful than attempted disanimation. He is most likely to go for your neck in frontal assault. And he is easily distracted by damage to his clothing or personal toilette” (p. 96).
Gotta love the fact that vampires in this world are complete dandies.
It was the cute and over-the-top teaching methods at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s that kept me interested in Etiquette & Espionage, and I thought that listening to this one in audio format added something to the appeal. The narrator was perfect, adding to the overall drollness of this one.
So if I liked it so much why was this one not an outstanding adventure? Well, the creative finishing school aside, I simply was not a fan of the mystery or truly engaged with the characters. The mystery element was a little ho-hum. I really wasn’t invested in the search for the prototype. In addition, I also wasn’t invested in Sophronia as a character. She just seemed a little too good at everything spy related. There was not element of suspense at whether or not Sophronia would carry the day. Sophronia was a super spy and there was no doubt that she would solve the mystery.
Etiquette & Espionage is a fun read if you looking for a quirky world where werewolves wear top hats and vampires are more concerned with the cut of their coat than anything else. I do recommend listening to this one in audiobook as the narrator, Moria Quirk, was fantastic. As a non-British person, I loved hearing this in a British accent, and it added a lot to the reading experience.
While Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan is not quirky, it is set in alternative history and takes place in a dirigible. I think those that appreciate Carriger’s world building in Etiquette & Espionage will also appreciate it in Leviathan.
For a quirkier read, I recommend Jackaby by William Ritter. It features a Sherlock-type character, but the true value in this one is it’s unique heroine, Abigail Rook. See why I loved this one in my full review.
Lastly, if you liked the idea of a ladies’ finishing school as masquerading as something else, give Alyxandra Harvey’s Breath of Frost a try. Three young debutantes discover they’re witches – to finishing school they go!