When the quote on the back of a book says, "Absolutely charming, comical, and full of whimsy...It is the perfect steampunk version of Harry Potter." I expect great things.
Prepare to be disappointed.
Etiquette & Espionage: Book the First, Finishing School by Gail Carriger is a long and clunky mystery.
What is the mystery about? That IS the mystery.
The story opens with Sophronia, spunky young teen, getting whisked off to finishing school. On the way to the finishing school, the carriage containing her soon-to-be best friend Dimity, Dimity's brother, and headmistress Mademoiselle Geraldine, is attacked not by highwaymen, but by FLYWAYMEN!
They escape the flywaymen and their airdinghy, and discover that Mademoiselle Geraldine is actually senior student, Monique the cliche mean girl. They eventually make it to the school, which floats above the earth on the moors and is constantly moving it's location (this is the only likeness to HP I see) .
Wait! I almost forgot! The school has both a vampire and a werewolf on staff.
The school, is indeed a finishing school, as in, finishing off one's first husband to get the money and moving on to marry someone else. Though there is mention of a missing prototype and the mysterious Picklemen, the reader is left in the dark about the "who's," the "what's," and the "why's".
Who is looking for the prototype? Why? What is it a prototype of? Patience, dear reader. You will find out on PAGE 173 WHAT THE DANG PROTOTYPE IS. Yes, you must wait until page 173 for most, but not all of the information you seek.
I spent a lot of time wondering if there was a prequel I missed because Book the First is very confusing. Aside from missing key plot points, the writing is befuddling and the descriptions are simply not there. If you want to know what the werewolf looks like, he is very-good looking and does not wear shoes. If you want to know what the vampire looks like, he has a mustache. What does Sophronia look like? She is mousy, and small-chested but her bosom is considerably larger by the end of the book. At least three female characters are described as looking "ladies of the night" what with their red handkerchiefs and such, but as far as I can tell, none of them actually are.
Perhaps the most thoughtful line in the book comes at the very end. Sophronia has a realization, "Many was the lady whose belief in another's sound judgment was based solely upon that other judging her favorably." No, that wasn't translated from some eastern language. I lifted that gem straight from the page.
Like other books that try too hard, Ettiquette & Espionage uses lots of invented vocabulary and ridiculous names. Mrs. Barnaclegoose and Lord Dingleproops are only outdone by the leader of the dastardly Picklemen, the feared Master Chutney. I could not make this stuff up.
Despite my complaints, Ettiquette & Espionage is most likely appropriate for...say...eleven or twelve and up? I searched and searched for some righteous plot, but until more light is shed on the purposes of the Picklemen or the aims of the ladies' finishing school, it is still unclear to me who is good and who is bad.
I slogged through this interminable tome with loathing, but this review might be the most fun thing I've ever written.
Merciful heavens, there's already a sequel. Curtsies & Conspiracies. I...I just can't...I cannot....