This series is the perfect comfort read for when life is getting you down and it’s too cold and dark outside to want to do anything but stay in bed. Ostensibly YA, the only real concession Carriger makes to the age of her intended readers is that she refrains from referring to the … ahem … biological aspects of romance, mostly because all her characters are just a touch too young to be carrying on in such a manner. Thank goodness! (Full disclosure: I read the first of Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate books, Soulless, before these, and while I loved everything about Alexia Tarabotti, Lord Maccon and company, and the wonderful style in which the book was written, I was just a tad (read: Massively! Terribly!) uncomfortable with the … ahem … romantic bits. The dratted thing is I want to read the rest of the series, so I’m going to have to find a way to deal with this prudishness of mine … just not yet).
As it is the Finishing School books are set before the Parasol Protectorate series, so it’s done me no harm to have read these first. And they’re great fun. Miss Sophronia Temminnick gets packed off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality at the age of fourteen, only to discover that the school (located aboard an airship of “chubby floating majesty”) is actually going to teach her how to spy, deceive and kill like a pro. To make things more interesting, everyone aboard is aware of this except for Madam Geraldine.
Sophronia soon makes friends and she, Dimity, Agatha, Sidheag and Vieve learn how to navigate society with deadly grace, making use of accessories, petticoats, pastries and even a wicker chicken as they unravel evil plots and confound dastardly plans. Along the way they have dealings with werewolves and vampires, the boys from the local school for evil genius’ Bunson and Lacroix’s Boys’ Polytechnique, flywaymen (airborne highwaymen!), bitchy fellow students and the sinister group known as the Picklemen.
Things of note volume by volume include, in Etiquette and Espionage: thrown food, an adorable mechanical sausage dog, Bumbersnoot, and Sophronia’s abominable curtsy; in Curtsies and Conspiracies: a pretty, kohl-wearing emo boy, a robe à transformation and more Bumbersnoot; in Waistcoats and Weaponry: a mad, flowerpot-wearing vampire, an accidental secret engagement and the further adventures of Bumbersnoot; and in Manners and Mutiny: some very useful fake cakes, the importance of snacks and tea to espionage endeavours and revelations galore. Also, Bumbersnoot. Not to mention consistently fab banter between friends and enemies alike.
All in all, these books are funny, beautifully written and extremely entertaining. Sometimes that is exactly what you need, so if you find yourself needing such a read you could do a lot worse than give these a go.
“I hate adventure. Did I mention recently that I hate adventure? Well, I do. Sophronia, is this your fault? Have you arranged an unwarranted adventure for us?”