In addition to being an incredibly witty writer, Gail Carriger has the ability to make really well written stories appear simply fun and easy, yet beneath the surface there is always an intelligent, well-researched story line. In Curtsies and Conspiracies , Sophronia and her friends continue their adventures at Miss Geraldine’s, that began in Etiquette and Espionage . There are kidnappings and clandestine spying and stealing of inventions, and confrontations with vampires and werewolves, Picklemen and mechanimals.
The intrigue in this book involves a valve invented to allow fast travel through the aether. The vampires, Picklemen, and the Queen's own Shadow government, all want to control it. As expected, Sophronia in the middle of it all, is trying to find out what the valve does and who wants it. Especially intriguing are Sophronia's budding romances, amid the underlying exploration of social order. The author does a wonderful job showing that her characters are both accomplished young spies, and teenagers navigating the torrents of youth.
The story’s two subplots have to do with growing up. They involve Sophronia promising Vieve she would help get her into the rival boys' school for evil geniuses. This requires orchestrating the removal of a teacher at the school, who would recognize Vieve's gender, making her admission impossible. Sophronia's resulting guilt as she begins to understand the effects of her actions, is the author's way of demonstrating Sophronia's budding maturity. The other is her confusion when she starts attracting attention from both Soap and Lord Mersey, the son and heir of a Pickleman Duke. Sophronia loses some of her naiveté, as she ponders the possibilities of romance.
As with Conspiracies creative thought, brave girls, and crazy adventure, and other quirky, intelligent characters abound in this book. It is great fun to see the past of some of the characters in the Parasol Protectorate, especially Lord Akeldama, who allows a glimpse when he makes a mysterious, but memorable appearance, with the promise of more to come.
A fun story that builds on the first novel but would do well on its own, too. Although generally classified as YA, this a perfectly enjoyable read for adult fans of steampunk urban fantasy fun.