Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School)

Etiquette & Espionage - Gail Carriger Sophronia is 14 years old, from a very proper (and very large) family – and she is expected to be a lady. Which is unfortunate, because she doesn’t exactly fit – as becomes clear when she spills trifle all over a visiting lady while climbing in the dumb waiter; it all seemed like such a good idea at the time.In despair, her mother sends her to finishing school – Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, which only the very best ladies go to.Of course, her mother doesn’t know about the advanced curriculum in the floating school – held aloft by 3 giant blimps. The studies of poisons and weapons, of tumbling, of lying and manipulations; everything an intelligence gatherer – or an assassin – would need.Learning alone in such a school would be a story in and of itself – but one of Sophronia’s fellow students is up to something – something that has even her teachers perturbed and angry and may risk the school itself. If that weren’t motivation enough, Sophronia doesn’t like her very much and is determined to get involved.I love the delightful tone of this book, a tone that is common to all of Gail Carriger’s steampunks. We have the delightful formality of the time – the speech, the mode of dress, the stilted, powerfully restrictive modes of etiquette and proper behaviour all combine to ensconce us firmly in the Victorian era. Yet at the same time it’s funny and fun, there’s a lightness to it that both pokes fun at the rigid strictures of the time while at the same time using them to produce endless fun and a lot of good humour.Even the very basis of the school rests on the inherent jarring juxtaposition of what the finishing school is. Here are young ladies of quali-tay learning all the proper (and relatively useless or frivolous) things such a young lady should learn – the proper way to dress, the way to speak, the way to address people of varying ranks; manners and deportment and attire and posture and polite conversation over dainty teacups and all the other important and vital information.And then mix it up with the art of espionage and assassination. How does one order a lamb dinner AND strychnine when on a budget? What is the best way to hide a knife in one’s décolletage?But it’s more than just the mix of the two – it’s how wonderfully well they’re blended. The stifling requirements of Victorian Etiquette aren’t just something they have to work round - after all, this is something we’ve seen before, deadly assassins, warriors and martial artists who dress up as helpless normal people – even frivolous, silly people – and then cast all that aside to become the lethal people they are underneath. Their fancy top is camouflage that gets in the way and needs to be cast aside and struggled with.But not here – the finishing school USES Victorian Femininity as a strength, an asset. They have lessons on how to manipulate and control people by the way they faint, on the way they talk and act. They have lessons on inventive applications of a handkerchief, of how a sewing kit is always useful to carry in the most odd of occasions, even the intelegencer’s use of a ribbon. They have fighting styles that relies on stealth and surprise, approaching and killing quickly someone you engage in conversation – styles that rely on manipulation and stealth and people’s assumptions against them.Read More