This is another book I picked up through my NetGalley membership. I’d thoroughly enjoyed Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series (and reviewed Soulless, Timeless, Heartless, Changeless, and Blameless on my blog), so even though this new series falls into the YA genre, it carries over enough of the steampunk world-building and even a few of the characters from that first series that I was tipped into wanting to read it. After all, a series intro like the one that comes with this book promises great things:
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.
The writing style shows Carriger has continued to strengthen her trademark voice. The humor is deeply embedded in the story–but in a British, stiff-upper-lip tone that reflects what I enjoy most about Monty Python:
“How do you do? Isn’t this a spiffing day? Really, quite spiffing. I’m Dimity. Who are you?”
“Is that all?”
“What, isn’t it enough?”
“Oh, well, I mean to say, I’m Dimity Ann Plumleigh-Teignmott, actually, in full.”
“Sophronia Angelina Temminnick.”
“Gosh, that’s a mouthful.”
“It is? I suppose so.” As though Dimity Ann Plumleigh-Teignmott were a nice easy sort of name.
The nicest part of the story is Sophronia’s evolution from family misfit to something even more interesting–and the subversive commentary on women’s roles even in very early 20th-century England. Above all, this finishing school is a way for young women of quality to become aware of the wider application of feminine wiles and tricks of accoutrement. It’s easy to imagine a school like this turning out the Mata Hari–in fact, the timeline of that woman’s life falls neatly into the framework established for this story, and I’m having a head-slapping moment for not having tumbled to that fact earlier.
For the first in a series, this book does not suffer from over-explanation–though I suspect my deep familiarity with the Parasol Protectorate series may also mean I would have been irritated had the author gone into additional detail about the politics and world in which Sophronia is making her way. In fact, the inclusion of Mme Lefoux and her niece operated as something of Easter Eggs for me, and served as tidy reminders of the wider world Sophronia faces. Because, certainly, she is young and naive when she starts at the boarding school, and needs the perspective their experiences can bring to bear.
In view of the fact that I swallowed the book (and its sequel) in a sitting last year while I was supposed to be focused on finishing homework myself, I can highly recommend this book for its ability to draw the reader into an escapist fantasy operating on a consistent set of internal rules. For anyone who wants a more scientific take on young people away at school for the first time (as opposed to the magic in Harry Potter‘s universe), this should fit the bill nicely.