Etiquette and Espionage is Gail Garriger’s first young adult book, and the first in a new series. The story takes place in the same world, and acts as a prequel to the author’s Parasol Protectorate series written for adults. The story takes the reader for a wild ride from the very first pages. Sophronia Temminnick, the Victorian teenage heroine has a curious, questioning mind, an affinity for books, and of all things, a love of mathematics and engineering, traits that make her the very antithesis of the young ladies of her time. But she also a girl who likes to climb, deconstruct things to see how they work, and is never above a little eavesdropping, all habits that get her into constant trouble, but make her funny, and very, very likable.
The adventure begins when Sophronia is recruited to attend Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Her mother eagerly agrees in hopes of turning her unruly daughter into a proper lady. What neither knows is that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is a finishing school for spies and assassins. Sophronia learns the quadrille, how to curtsy properly, set a table, flutter her eyelashes, and faint without wrinkling her dress. But she also learns intelligence gathering, lying and deniability, and how to kill by garotte, poison, or knife, along with other unusual modes of finishing, not usually taught in school.
Carriger develops her characters gradually, giving them an interesting mix of layered personalities, which makes them believable. Sophronia’s friends Dimity, Agatha, and Lady Sidheag, the Scottish girl raised by werewolves, along with young Vieve, who although a girl, just wants to be one of the boys. Even Monique, Sophronia's evil, manipulative nemesis, and all-around the bad girl, is a great supporting chiaroscuro character.
The world-building aspect of steampunk, complete with mechanical maids, butlers, and even a mechanical dog named Bumbersnoot, who becomes Sophronia’s boon companion, are all presented as matter-of-fact elements. There are also flyway men, dirigibles, and a bumbling, clueless head mistress. Another bonus is the setting. Mademoiselle Geraldine's is unusual in another way. It floats above ground and travels around the area, and has as a companion, an adjoining boys’ school for evil geniuses. The plot also includes paranormal elements. There is a werewolf and a vampire, among Sophronia’s teachers.
And although it does not actually develop in this book, there is a hint of forthcoming romance, between Sophronia and a boy she meets at the school. All in all, a great first book in a promising series, that is a very enjoyable stand alone read.