Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger (Finishing School #2)
Genre: YA, Steampunk
Publisher: Little, Brown on November 1, 2013
Audio: Moira Quirk for Hachette Audio
Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests?View Spoiler »Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests?
Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy–won’t Mumsy be surprised? Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners.
Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot–one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot-and survive the London Season with a full dance card.
In this sequel to New York Times bestselling Etiquette & Espionage, class is back in session with more petticoats and poison, tea trays and treason. Gail’s distinctive voice, signature humor, and lush steampunk setting are sure to be the height of fashion this season. « Hide Spoiler
The teaching staff at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality (pronounced qual-ee-tay, of course!) may have met their match in young Sophronia Temminick, intelligencer in training. As an intelligencer, or a Victorian-era spy, Sophronia gets involved in the most outrageous shenanigans, causing mischief and unraveling schemes wherever she goes.
As with Gail Carriger’s other works, it isn’t the plot that draws in readers. CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES actually has a very similar plot to the first book in the series: a new mechanical invention that promises to revolutionize travel for vampires must be obtained before it can fall into the wrong hands, which could be a rival supernatural faction or the agents of a competing intelligencer academy. But the people hunting for this device will stop at nothing…including kidnapping!
The characters are the strongest element in CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES. Sophronia and her friends Dimity, Sidheag, and Agatha are by turns witty and dry, geniuses one moment and completely oblivious the next. I’ve really enjoyed reading a series featuring so many strong female friendships, which is why I was disappointed by the tension between the girls this time around. It all gets resolved in due course, but I felt like the whole thing was just a way to manufacture drama. Hopefully this doesn’t happen in the next book! I need more priceless exchanges like this one, too:
“What’s a man like down there?”
“Oh.” Sidheag wrinkled her nose. “Unimpressive. They have,” she gestured toward her own nether regions with one hand, “a sort of dangly sausage—lacks tailoring.”
Maybe it’s because I’m immature, but I *died* at that line!
Thankfully Sophronia’s friendship with the cross-dressing child inventor Vieve and the below-decks labourer Soap were largely free of tension. Vieve is all mischievous wit and trickery while Soap is good-hearted and compassionate…although not entirely unwise to the intelligence game! I can’t wait to see where these two friendships go, especially since Soap is working his subtle yet adorable charm on Sophronia. Yeah, I ship it.
The steampunk aspects of this series are fairly unimposing, so I think it’s a good intro to that genre if you’re interested in checking it out. Mechanical automatons shaped like animals, appropriately termed “mechanimals” and the fact that Madame Geraldine’s Academy is a floating dirigible are the two most prominent steampunk creations. Sophronia’s pet mechanimal Bumbersnoot, a little mechanical sausage dog, is my personal favourite. How Gail Carriger manages to pack so much personality into that little guy is beyond me!
I listened to the audio version of this book, and as usual Moira Quirk’s narration is absolutely on point. She delivers quippy and more emotional lines with equal skill, but it’s her comedic timing that really showcases her talent as a voice actress. I honestly laughed at loud multiple times – in public – while listening to CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES. If you’re tempted by this series, do yourself a favour and check out the audio format. The hilarity, ridiculousness, and delightful scrapes that Sophronia and her friends get up to are portrayed perfectly by Quirk.
Recommended for fans of historical fantasy, steampunk, and books that don’t themselves too seriously.