Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Etiquette and Espionage

Etiquette and Espionage

Gail Carriger
Fiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013   ISBN: 978-0316190084

Though she is fourteen years old and therefore perfectly capable of behaving like a young lady, Sophronia is about as unladylike as a girl can get. Her clothes are always in a mess, she likes to climb trees and other things, and delights in taking machines apart. She also loves to read books, and her curtsies are a fright to behold. Not knowing what to do about her behavior and shocking lack of ladylike accomplishments, Sophronia’s mother decides that the only thing to do is to send her wayward daughter to a finishing school.

   Thus, without any warning, the headmistress from Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality comes to Sophronia’s house and soon after Sophronia finds herself in a carriage with Mademoiselle Geraldine bound for the school. In the carriage she meets Dimity, one of her fellow debut pupils. After talking to Dimity for a while Sophronia begins to get the idea that her new school might not be a traditional finishing school at all. She does not have time to find out more because the carriage is held up by flywaymen. The sky highwaymen are looking for something and ransack the luggage, trying to find it.

   Thanks to Sophronia’s quick thinking, Sophronia, Dimity, Dimity’s little brother, and the headmistress manage to escape. As they complete their journey the young people find out the person who collected Sophronia is not the headmistress at all. She is a student from the school called Monique who was tasked with the job of collecting some kind of prototype and bringing it to the school. Though the flywaymen did not find the prototype, Monique refuses to tell anyone where she hid it. She won’t even tell her teachers at the school. Sophronia is intrigued by the puzzle, but there is not much she can do about it for the time being.

   The reason for this is that her new school is in an airship and getting off it to look for the prototype is not an option. Sophronia is also kept very busy, and she quickly learns that her school is a rather unique finishing school. It does endeavor to turn girls into well-mannered young ladies, but it also turns them into effective spies and assassins as well. The students learn how to curtsey, how to bat their eyelashes, how to dance with grace, and how to generally present themselves to the world as proper young ladies. In addition, they learn how to throw knives, and how to poison, manipulate, and spy on people.

   Though Sophronia did not want to come to the school, she starts to like it. She makes friends with the “sooties” who keep the steam powered engine of the airship fueled. She also makes friends with some of the other debut girls, and comes to appreciate that being a lady might not be such a bad thing after all. Especially if it means that she gets to have adventures. Though Sophronia cannot do much about finding the prototype while she is on the airship, she does not give up hope that in the not too distant future she will get to the bottom of the mystery.

   Set in a steampunk version of Victorian England, this splendidly unusual and often delightfully funny book will charm readers who like fantasy titles. It is interesting to see how girls and women in Sophronia’s world behave in a manner that is considered appropriate for members of their sex, and at the same time create interesting lives for themselves that offer them opportunities to use their brains.