Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School #2) by Gail Carriger

Curtsies & Conspiracies - Gail Carriger
Sophronia continues her education at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality learning vital lessons in fashion, etiquette, deportment, information gathering, poison and other essential arts of the budding secret agent.

And there are definitely plots afoot, the airship school is moving to London to examine a new technology which seems surprising – and suspicious. There is definitely something covert going on – something that Sophronia would investigate anyway, but has all the more reason to do so when her best friend seems to be threatened by it. She has a full array of skills given to her by the spy school and she’s more than willing to put them to the test.
With sequels, it’s always hard not to seem repetitive in a review, especially if everything a book got right in the first book, it continues to get right in this book. We still have that wonderful contrast between the elaborate, stifling trappings of idealised Victorian femininity with the deadly, artful skill of the espionage agent. We still have them USING the trappings of idealised femininity as espionage tools – and this is even further emphasised with the boys from Bunson being so very clueless and incapable because they have not been trained. The blending of these seemingly completely alien elements is such massive fun while, at the same time, continuing that refreshing challenge to the idea that a woman cannot be both stereotypically feminine AND powerful (even dangerous) at the same time.
The world is the same as the Parasol Protectorate Series but doesn’t just rest on it but expands it. We don’t just have the collection of werewolves and vampires in Victorian England with a fun dash of steampunk elements – there’s much more emphasis on the devices and gizmos that so epitomise steampunk and these in turn are interwoven with the supernatural elements. What does it mean to travel at great distances with advancing technology when vampires are bound to their territories? What will they do to escape their tethers? How does it disadvantage them when technology evolves to make humans more and more mobile while their Queens cannot leave the Hive house? It sets up a whole new angle on the world for more fascinating discovery and exploration.
This book did a good job of developing beyond its original excellent (and hilarious) premise and putting some meat on the bones. Firstly we have an extended storyline, the beginning of a meta-plot, with the rivalry between the Picklemen and the Supernaturals; and even between the werewolves and the vampires. This plot promises for lots of ongoing hooks for Sophronia to be involved in more than just random school hijinks. What particularly makes these plotlines – and the world and concepts revealed through them – so fascinating is having read the Parasol Protectorate Series, this book brings a different angle. There was never any real question of Alexia’s position on the pro/anti supernatural side with both her love interest and her own abilities so the whole question never really arose and her loyalties were obvious from a very early juncture. Seeing the same world through Sophronia’s eyes adds more levels because Sophronia isn’t inherently affiliated with any faction – and has members of the different factions all with some influence on her.


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