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.
Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is the bane of her mother's existence. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper etiquette at tea—and god forbid anyone see her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. She enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
But little do Sophronia or her mother know that this is a school where ingenious young girls learn to finish, all right—but it's a different kind of finishing. Mademoiselle Geraldine's certainly trains young ladies in the finer arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but also in the other kinds of finishing: the fine arts of death, diversion, deceit, espionage, and the modern weaponries. Sophronia and her friends are going to have a rousing first year at school.
Sophronia is a tomboy-ish younger sister who throws her mother into fits. She simply doesn’t care that she’s not supposed to be interested in running and jumping and listening at doors. After all, it’s natural to her, and she can’t see a good reason to start being boring like her elder sister. However, her mother doesn’t agree, and sends her off to a finishing school to reform her temperament and behavior. And that’s when things start to get very interesting.
Sophronia has a personality, if you know what I mean, and she’s the life of the book. Sophronia makes Etiquette & Espionage worth reading because her inquisitiveness, cunning and dismissal of scruples lead to one scrape after another. Sophronia isn’t attending an ordinary school (although there are the requisite moments of school chum bonding and teaming up to outwit teachers), after all – she’s also learning the fine arts of espionage and murder. At first she’s bemused and mystified, and later she embraces her lessons with verve. Her energy and penchant for disregarding the social niceties (while everyone around her is obsessed with them) makes for entertaining reading and hijinks galore.
While this book won’t best please those YA readers who have come to expect romance as a major element of their reading, it will satisfy those with an eye for a unique setting, a soft spot for clever characters, and anyone who has secretly wanted to become a spy at some point in their lives. The girls at Madmoiselle Geraldine’s learn about poison, machinery, making enemies and friends, and learn to curtsy at the same time. It’s a bit of a comedy of manners, but a dashing one, and seeds are planted for continuing story arcs. The formula = mystery + adventure.
Recommended for: fans of YA steampunk (think Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan or Kady Cross’ The Girl in the Steel Corset), and anyone waiting for their entrance letter to a school of magic or espionage.