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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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Insults "idiot," "pansies," "arse." Carriger also uses made-up words for minor name calling, such as: "cod-slinger," "young blunt," "uptop," and "sooties."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A mention of trying to put gin into punch.
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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.
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!
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.