A few months ago, googling “steampunk novel”, I stumbled upon Gail Carriger‘s young adult novel Etiquette & Espionage. Having read a most favourable Kirkus review and some Amazon and Goodreads praise of the book, I bought it.
I adored Gail Carriger’s literary voice and witty humour. I could not help but read in my mind like Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane. The author is – must be – a lover of words. However, this is taken to a point where it almost becomes a fault. At times, I did feel like the author indulged in her witty prose at the plot’s expense. I’m all for flowery style, especially when it fits the genre so well, but darlings can become tedious when there are too many of them.
I had to look up a few words, which was a tad disheartening considering I’ve read many books originally written in the 19th century, books aimed at adults, without having to look up quite so many words. I didn’t mind; I’m a word lover too and a humble learner of English as a second language. But I would think twice before recommending the read to an actual teenager, especially if they are only “average” readers.
In contrast to the superb prose, the plot felt… lacking. It is still decent, mind you. The beginning is brilliant. So much, in fact, that it got me all excited and increased my expectations to… possibly unrealistic. The ending is good. However, the middle fails to bring the tension up. It feels instead as a series of more or less unrelated episodes. Good episodes, but not of the kind that keeps you turning pages like and addict. It pains me to point this out because I know how hard middles are to write. They are my nightmare. But like a wise (if also unpleasant) college teacher of mine once said: the customer doesn’t care how hard it was to produce; all they care about is the end product.
I found the characterization irreproachable. I liked the whole cast. I have a soft spot for a certain 9-year-old inventor, but I also loved Sophronia, Sidheag (pronounced Shee-ak, just to mess with you head), Soap and Pillover. Much potential for them in the three other volumes of the tetralogy.
The characters, and the themes that seemed barely scratched in this volume, are ultimately what will push me to buy the next book, Curtsies & Conspiracies, and see where it leads.
Rating: 7.5/10 Since this is my first review, I feel the need to specify that this is a good rating. It means I enjoyed it well enough. Most of what I read and enjoy is either a 7 or an 8; 9 and 10 are rare.
Who would I recommend this to? Females, mainly lovers of steampunk, 1850s dresses and etiquette, humour, action and flowery prose.
As a side note, Gail Carriger’s latest book, Romancing the Inventor, has been released just a few days ago. It is “a steampunk lesbian romance featuring a maid bent on seducing a brilliant scientist who’s too brokenhearted to notice. Or is she?” (quoted from the author’s website). This looks interesting, but for my part, after I’m done with Finishing School, I’ll probably try Parasol Protectorate. It seems to be thought of as her best series.