Sidhaeg, one of Sophronia’s best friends, is shaken to the core by devastating news of her werewolf pack back in Scotland. She is convinced that she has to go home to help – which means a crafty absence from the school and a train journey across country
Of course, Sophronia is willing to help her friend, despite doubting the wisdom of her decision. Picking up many friends ad companions they make the journey to Scotland
But along the way they stumble across the latest scheme between the supernatural-hating Picklemen and the vampires and they cannot help getting involved. But a brief distraction quickly becomes deadly – and with possibly devastating consequences for the whole country.
I love this series. I love the very concept of it – the whole idea of these very proper Victorian ladies learning all the very proper Victorian etiquette and wearing all the very proper Victorian clothes and all the very proper Victorian modes of behaviour – and turning them into weapons and tools for espionage. I love the subversion of that, I love the whole idea of these women being extremely competent and dangerous not DESPITE the trappings and restrictions of their gender in this era – but using them to their advantage. I love their lessons, I love their training, I love the whole concept. And I love that we have a predominantly female cast who are good friends (no “super special female protagonist” here) and are all competent. Sure, Sophonia is super-duper competent and the leader, but she’s happy to acknowledge when her friends are better at something and has every faith in their abilities (including Agatha and Dimity who are often seen as behind the others); certainly more so than she has with untrained men. She respects other students of the school, even Monique. She has been trained. She is dangerous.
This excellent world setting and fun concept is backed up by Gail Carriger’s writing which has always been that excellent balance between proper Victorian language and screaming hilarity. It’s fun, it manages to be both a parody and serious and it always manages to be extremely funny, well paced and a general joy to read.
Since this is the prequel series to the Parasol Protectorate it’s also interesting to see the beginnings of some of the characters and events from that series – including the beginning of Lord Maccon’s story and the drama that overtook the Kingair Pack and how Sidhaeg became the woman she did. It’s nice to see it from this end
And it also introduces another excellent theme of this book – growing up. An inevitable part of any school story, Sophronia and her friends are coming of age and things and people are changing quickly. People are leaving Sophronia’s live, people are finding their paths and people are having to grow up – which adds to some sadness for Sophronia but also concerns about where she goes next; who does she seek out as a partron or a husband
Which also links (and I’m going to have an aside here to praise how well all the elements of this book link together and feed off each other) to Sophonia’s opinion of the politics of the day. She doesn’t favour any faction, she rather thinks any faction gaining complete control would be a bad thing and disapproves of the whole “with us or against us” mentality of both the vampires and the picklemen. She is a big believer in balance but that, in turn, makes her unwilling to seek a supporter on any side, even with Lord Akeldama courting her