Sophronia has no desire to go to finishing school where she imagines she will have to learn to act like a lady instead of running around during the day following her curiosity. But her mother says she must go so she is soon on her way to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
It isn’t long before Sophronia discovers that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is like no other finishing academy she’s heard of. First, she and other students are attacked by flywaymen on the way to the school. Then they are greeted by a werewolf who helps them get on board the school, which consists of several dirigibles tied together and floating above the moors in the English countryside.
In addition to lessons on curtseying and batting her eyelashes, Sophronia also gets lessons on how to poison dinner guests, and creating a discreet diversion to steal a desired object. Never one to follow the rules, Sophronia is soon discovering the places on board where students aren’t allowed to go and getting drawn into the mystery of a missing prototype.
Etiquette and Espionage (Finishing Academy) by Gail Carriger feels like a cross between the magical, inventive worlds of Harry Potter and the Golden Compass. Mechanical maids and butlers cater to the privileged families in society and there are distinct social positions between those who run the ship and those who attend school and teach there.
Sophronia is fascinated by how things work, and there are several mechanical contraptions for her to figure out, including a Dachshund-like “mechanimal” that eats coal to operate, and a filing system on tracks along the ceiling. It’s fun for the reader to discover the curiosities of this world along with Sophronia, who isn’t familiar with much of it because she grew up in the country.
There’s a lighthearted tone to the story, with Sophronia solving mysteries, making friends, getting into and out of trouble and learning new skills that will come in handy I imagine as the series continues. Sophronia and the story of her world are off to a promising start, and I recommend it for readers aged 11 and up.
The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion in this review.