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 the 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."
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Up until last month, when I signed up for Audible, I had only listened to one audiobook start to finish:

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The End, written by Lemony Snicket and narrated by Tim Curry. I had such a great time listening to that book (which I had only picked up because all print copies were sold out at the bookstore), that a few years later I tried listening to an audio version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but I found it unbearable. It was the end of my audiobook adventures. Until now.

This book's audio presentation was on sale for US$4.95 sometime last month, so I grabbed it since it's a low price to pay to try something new. When I signed up for Audible, I figured I'd just listen to nonfiction, but my curiosity won out.

Etiquette & Espionage (as well as the second book in the Finishing School series, Curtsies & Conspiracies) is narrated by Moira Quirk, who I'll just come out and say is absolutely amazing. Her performance of E&E has, single-handedly, changed my outlook on Audiobooks. I've already got a backlog.

As for the book itself, I put in that blurb at the top of this review, but I feel like I can summarize the themes of this book in just three words: Steampunk spy school. In case that doesn't immediately grab you: kind of like Harry Potter had no clue what he was getting into when he found out he'd be attending Hogwarts for his wizard education, Sephronia is suddenly enrolled in a finishing school she assumes is all about learning etiquette and dancing and dressing, but actually it teaches young women the art of espionage. And by the way, the school is basically an airship, like in Final Fantasy VIII, except in this case it's always in flight.

My allusion to the Harry Potter series is more appropriate than you might think. The book takes place over the course of Sephronia's first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine's, in which she breaks loads of school rules, makes friends with (and schemes with) a few fellow misfits, and is basically navigating this new life of hers by the seat of her pants; or should I say, petticoats. Everyone around her always knew they'd go to spy school while she had no clue such a thing existed. I'm not saying that this series is trying to be Harry Potter. I'm just saying that it shares a few core themes - themes that work - but delivers its own delightful brand of magic. 

I'm not sure how different my outlook on this story would be if I'd read it instead of listened, but Quirk brought it to life in a way that the experience was a blast.

Etiquette & Espionage contains many of the elements we've come to know and love in YA fiction, like first crushes and general mischief, but focusing most on the adventures. It's a great read for teens, and a fun and fast-paced one for me now as an adult.