Etiquette & Espionage: Finishing School, Book 1

Book review by
Julie A. Carlson, Common Sense Media
Etiquette & Espionage: Finishing School, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Delightful steampunk fantasy about girl spies and assassins.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 11 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids will learn the arts of both etiquette and espionage. Of course, it's all in good fun. The class system, race, and politics (progressive and conservative views) are featured heavily. Along with teaching students how to be assassins and spies, Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality also teaches history, music, dance, art, cooking, manners, mathematics, science, and fashion.

Positive Messages

The characters are being trained as assassins, but very worthy themes explored include good vs. evil, love and friendship, roles of women, individuality, self-reliance, honesty, loyalty, courage, and standing up to bullies. Sophronia hails from the country and is often put down by the other female students, who feel they're higher in status, wealth, and connections.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sophronia likes trouble, and trouble seems to find her. But she always figures out how to solve a problem. She's honest to a fault and a very good friend, and she wants to succeed at the academy and prove to her family that she can be a lady of quality. She stands up for others, especially the young engineer Soap, a delightful charmer and gentleman. Dimity is kind and trustworthy and helps Sophronia in times of need. Even though adults are present in the novel, the teen characters learn to deal with situations themselves, especially how to have faith in themselves and one another.


Hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting, blackmail, and breaking and entering. The girls are taught to use various weapons, as well as poisons, to protect themselves and to "finish" someone off if need be. But Sophronia doesn't feel she could ever hurt or kill someone. Men and older teen boys use pistols and more violent tactics to get what they want; one even strikes a woman. One character is a bully.


Female students are taught to use their feminine wiles and assets when it comes to various espionage techniques. It's mentioned that one of the teachers has an ample decolletage. The students' bust sizes, large or small, are often pointed out.


Insults "idiot," "pansies," "arse." Carriger also uses made-up words for minor name calling, such as: "cod-slinger," "young blunt," "uptop," and "sooties."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A mention of trying to put gin into punch.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Etiquette & Espionage is the the first book in the Finishing School series by popular adult author Gail Carriger. Like her other novels, this one -- her first for the YA audience -- features strong female and male role models and a puzzling mystery set in a steampunk Victorian world. Fourteen-year-old Sophronia attends a finishing school for assassins, where she learns to pick locks and use high-tech weaponry (dangerous knives, scissors) -- as well as how to be a lady. While there's murder or death in the novel, guns, bows and arrows, and cannons are used by adults, and there's mild hand-to-hand combat, gambling, and knife fighting. A budding interracial friendship/romance is one plot thread. Because Etiquette & Espionage is set in Victorian times, terms such as "colored" are used to describe Soap, the male love interest, who's black. Werewolves and vampires give the story a supernatural twist.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 12-year-old Written byJeanne W. May 18, 2021

Love this series!

I love this Finishing School series and have re-read it several times. My fantasy loving daughter began reading the series at around 10 and she's reread it... Continue reading
Parent Written byRebecca L January 7, 2018

A charming tale!

A good fun Steampunk tale, with witty dialogue and intriguing plot. Its quirky style will draw you in!
Teen, 14 years old Written byfeyre January 27, 2021


I liked this book, but the main problem was that there was nothing that really made me want to keep reading it. It was super slow at some points, and was too fa... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byLily20077 October 14, 2020

I loved it

My friend and I read it at the same time, and we both really loved it. I read the whole series!

What's the story?

Tomboy Sophronia Temminnick is sent to Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality to learn how to become a proper lady ... or so she and her mother are led to believe. Much to Sophronia's delight, she discovers that the school isn't what it appears to be -- it's actually an academic institution for training young women to be spies and assassins. (Finishing school is for \"finishing\" someone off.) At Mademoiselle's, Sophronia quickly makes both good friends and bitter rivals. But she also learns how to become the lady her mother always wanted her to be, as well as a dangerous assassin ... who always knows how to get out of a jam. Along with Sophonia's adventures at the academy, she solves a mystery, falls in love, and saves the day, time and time again.

Is it any good?

ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE is a delightful first book in a promising new YA series by Gail Carriger, author of the fantastic Parasol Protectorate series for adults. Here, Carriger does everything right. Just like her other steampunk novels, Etiquette & Espionage is a fabulous story filled with wit, uproarious dialogue, and a heroine who's cool, intelligent, and extremely clever.

Unique names, such as Sophronia Angelina Temminnick, Dimity Ann Plumleigh-Teignmott, Monique de Pelouse, and Phineas B. Crow (aka Soap), will leave readers tongue-twisted. And original gadgets, weapons, and air transportation, as well as powerful robots and mechanical animals, will spark readers' imagination. Bravo!

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how interracial dating has been viewed in different eras. Do you think Sophronia and Soap will be able to find love in Victorian times?

  • What do you think of the steampunk genre? Do you like the mix of history, science fiction, and the paranormal?

  • Are the characters admirable, despite their training? Should that be the case?

Book details

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