Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School, Book 2)

End Date:  December 22

Author:  Gail Carriger

Published:  2013

Genre:  Young Adult

Pages:  310 (hardcover)

Selected By:  BillMo

Average Score:  Scoring Liked Book

“Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing!  For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy (won’t Mumsy be surprised?).  Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners.

“Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first.  A conspiracy is afoot – one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans.  Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot – and survive the London Season with a full dance card.” – from the Amazon summary.

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BillMo:  Scoring Great Book

I am quite a fan of Gail Carriger, and I am pleased to report that she did not disappoint me with this installment!  It was quite well-done, and if any of our Members have read the Parasol Protectorate series, they will quickly find that many familiar and favorite characters make appearances in this Young Adult series.

I am completely taken with the idea of a Finishing School for young Victorian ladies, where they not only learn the fine points of actually being a successful and virtuous young female member of 19th century London society but also the skills necessary for espionage and becoming what Carriger has dubbed an “intelligencer.”

“Bet she thinks the sun rises out of her tea in the morning.”

A highlight for me in this particular novel was the test that Sophronia had to complete in the beginning, as well as her explanations as to why she made certain decisions throughout her examination.  I was sad to learn that, because of her extraordinarily high marks, her friends were specifically instructed to ignore her in order to single her out – another test, in and of itself.  This singling out of Sophronia, however, does make me feel hopeful that in the future installments, which I assume will include our heroine successfully “finishing” at some point, she will not be forced to marry anyone at all, and will instead be allowed to become an individual intelligencer.

“His hair is a little long.  The mark has a slightly sullen expression denoting chronic ennui.”

I also liked how Sophronia worked on the defamation of a certain teacher’s character and, in so doing, gradually came to realize that all of her actions have consequences – and that, no matter how skilled one might be in espionage, ruthless or self-serving decisions often result in one smelling less rose-like than one might prefer.  I appreciate her strength as a Young Adult heroine, and, while reliant and loyal to her friends, she can and does work independently when the situation calls for it.  It’s so refreshing to find a series marketed towards younger women that doesn’t include a leading lady who is readily prepared to fling herself off of a cliff over some glittery, twitterpated male.  There is a small love triangle involving two young men who are in something of a competition for Sophronia’s affections and attention, and while I like the dynamic she has with both of them, I do hope she maintains her resolve and doesn’t pull a Bella Swan on us when it comes to these potential romantic endeavors.

The classes presented at the Finishing School are very interesting and provide some excellent advice for our young ladies, such as that “colored fish flesh could bring on an attack of hysteria.”  I am also quite fond of the various gadgets that appear, such as the obstructor.

“A pox upon nondescript clothing, cursed Sophronia – in knickerbockers, corset, and men’s shirt.”

I found the character of Pillover to be quite adorable, with his pouty, Eeyore-like attitude and Little Lord Fauntleroy style clothing, while the interactions including Lord Felix Moresey and Soap were engaging and entertaining.  I do hope that the future installments of this series include more use of Lord Akeldama; he was a major player in the Parasol Protectorate and is one of my favorite Carriger creations.

Incidentally, I think I may have a crush on Captain Niall.  I mean, honestly, who wouldnt adore a werewolf with a top hat tied to his head?

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  A cross between Dimity’s girlish naivete and Genevieve LeFoux’s enthusiastic techiness.

BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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The Divine Ms. Em: Scoring Liked Book

No Review Provided!

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  N/A.

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Lady Esbe:  Scoring Liked Book

Caveat:  Lady Esbe had not read the first book in this series – Etiquette & Espionage – prior to reading this selection.

I must begin by saying this was a much needed reprieve in a month of stress.  I found myself chuckling quite a bit and for that I am grateful.    I enjoyed this fantasy/steam punk rendition of the era.  It was a nice combination of the newfangled and the traditional concepts.  Throw in the vampires, werewolves, contradictory humans and the various goings on, I was quite amused.  To be honest, I wouldn’t mind seeing a film adaptation, because if it were done well.  I’d be in stitches from the situation and the funny  names (Lord Hematol- why wouldn’t he be a vampire?).

Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing School is quite the fascinating place, being a floating school is interesting enough; however, the author goes even farther by placing us into a school for espionage.  This is the backdrop for the young ladies put in the school’s charge, either willingly or reluctantly to become intelligencers for any number of organizations, of course all of these organizations are at odds with one another.  We have the government who seems to only minutely influence the actions of the other parties in play.  You also have the werewolves, who tend to keep to themselves but do what they need to remain relevant and informed in the world of supernaturals.  Of course, the vampires have their hands firmly entrenched in any facet that may bring the more affluence, power and typically in the know.  We also have the “Picklemen,” highborn men who definitely want to influence facets of government while keeping the supernaturals on the fringes.  I enjoyed getting to know, even only peripherally, the players that would influence the young ladies at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s.

Well, the young ladies of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s are a good display of the contradictions of their future roles and their desires in life in general.  I find it amusing that one of their chief goals while at this school is to complete their training while eluding the head mistress’s apparent delusional purpose of the school.  After all, if you can’t keep the warden in the dark, then how successful will the young ladies be in their “chosen” profession?  However, it is gathered that not all of the wards of the school are there of their own volition and some are there to only be kicked out.  While some show a natural aptitude, others are quite useless – as many society women were for the age.

This leads me to discuss our main character, Sophronia.  While she didn’t want to attend the Finishing School, she is most definitely its shining star.  I found myself trying to determine if she’s just nosey or a very apt trainee.  She is showing remarkable skills of what I would consider a good intelligencer would have, including crafty, quick on her feet, resourceful and dogmatic.  I enjoy that she puts others before herself, including her ridiculous friends Dimity, Vieve, etc.  However, she is likely the most self aware of the hodgepodge of peers.  She is always thinking, always attempting to protect others, whether it be their person or their heart.  This is evidenced by watching out for Dimity despite being at odds over their evaluations.  It is also evident in her treatment of would be suitor, great friend of Soap.  She understands the differences in their stations and the taboo it would be for them to become more than friends, but she is appreciative of his friendship, loyalty and general good-guy tendencies.  However, on the other end of the spectrum we have Lord Felix Mersey, who she is also attracted to but not willing to take that step.

It is on that note that I shall make a comparison to a series I read previously, that featured one inept, but highly touted character by the name of Rachel Morgan.  Unlike a certain Rachel Morgan, at least Sophronia can temper her base desires with practical matters to focus on her craft, protecting her friends with the occasional musing of the opposite sex.  I also find that despite truly having odds stacked against her, she doesn’t get angst-ridden, she does what she does and hopes others come around.  It’s sad that the writer has a teen character who is more mature than a character who is supposed to be at least twice her age in another series (to Kim Harrison: read and learn).  Also I found that Sophronia tends to worry about ruining people’s reputations, people’s general safety and the like.  She asks for help when she needs to versus whining about how the world is so unfair.  In fact, she does her best to be as pragmatic as possible.  I enjoyed her scrappiness, her resourcefulness, dogged determination and her antics.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t so impressed with some of her peers.

Dimity’s name says it all for me in an element of the name.  The girl is as dim as you can get.  While I did not read the first book, I’m gathering that she is one of the young ladies who wishes not to attend MGFS but is enjoying certain aspects of the school.  She manages to be like the young woman who is only concerned with appearances and doesn’t look much beyond that.  I frequently thought, “Why is this nitwit in a school for would-be spies?” Alas, we all have classmates, peer, co-workers who fit firmly into this category.  Her obsession with fashion and courtship adds nothing to her character, and I found it quite annoying that she’s been in school as long as Sophronia and is so inept that she first dimwittedly thinks she received a love letter/rendezvous request from a young man that she met all of once with no further interaction, her lack of care after the actual kidnapping attempt in the woods and then on to the ball to be a victim yet again.  To further my ire with Dimity, her “benevolent” jaunt down to the boiler room to teach the sooties how to be more hygienic was most irritating.  Again, unaware, self-absorbed and useless.  I, personally would have left her with the Westminster Hive, because she is utterly useless and annoying.

Moving on to an equally annoying character and one of the primary antagonists in the novel: Monique.  I quite pictured Nellie from Little House on the Prairie (except more attractive).  It is  apparent that she uses her looks to gain her favor.  However, she proves even more unscrupulous in her dealings in trying to get ahead in the world.  Where Sophronia uses her cleverness  and logic, Monique is all about manipulation through her looks and willingness to sell anyone out that would gain her points.  She would think herself clever but anyone with half a brain could see she is almost as dense as dear Dimity.  However, in needing someone to be consistently abhorrent the author hit the mark with Monique.

I was hoping to see more with Sighead.  I found her capable, even if uninterested in what she was doing at the school.  Her affiliation with the werewolves of Scotland shows that she is a young lady of strength.  However, we do not get very much on Sighead and I, for one, would have rather seen more action with her and Sophronia.  I find Sidheag to be headstrong, but willing to lend a hand as needed.  She is not affronted when pulled into Sophronia’s scheme to protect and then rescue Dimity and Pillover.  I am curious as to her true relationship with Captain Niall but not enough to read the follow up installment.

I feel that the boys from Bunson’s were no more than a distraction to the novel.  I’m sure the new dimension of the young ladies taking lessons with the young men of Bunson’s was supposed to enhance their experience.  However, I didn’t really feel they added anything other than more characters of which to keep track.  Felix Mersey’s intended courtship of Sophronia is blah at best.  In addition, other than Pillover being the youngest member of the Bunson contingency, he is also the equally useless younger brother to Dimity.  During the entire excursion, I’m left thinking, “and the point of this is?”

In retrospect, I find myself chuckling quite a bit through the book at situations or sayings.  However, there is nothing about the book that makes me say it is a great read.  The author came up with some cute, albeit over the top concepts.  There were a few character introductions that made me chuckle a wee bit more.  However, all in all, I am not inclined to read the preceding books or those that may follow.  Again, I give her kudos for allowing the main character to have a fleeting interest in males in the novel (Soap and Felix) and just that, a fleeting interest.  Sophronia is clearly more professional in her young years than Rachel Morgan at 27.  In the midst of characters that could be perceived as weak, Sophronia shines in a way that could be tolerable as a heroine.  This is a fairly easy read if you have time (which is a precious commodity to me these days).

With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Sidheag.

Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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Elle Tea:  Scoring Liked Book

Caveat:  Elle had not read the first book in this series – Etiquette & Espionage – prior to reading this selection.

As has already been mentioned, this book (and series) is headed by a willful, intelligent, independent young lady of means and some small family connections.  These qualities – when combined with her devotion to her own education and seeming disinterest in the opposite sex’s advances – make her a rare commodity in today’s Young Adult market, which seems to have boy-crazed, co-dependent, and sometimes suicidal heroines as their vanguard.

I previously read the Parasol Protectorate series, and, until reading this book, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was I don’t like about Gail Carriger’s style.  This story – like her others – is really rather clever, and the language, character names, and gadgets are all well-written, witty, and highly detailed.

But it’s the very passivity of her style that Esbe mentioned that I can’t seem to get “into,” in the end.  They’re all quite entertaining books, with the Parasol Protectorate being more of an adult-themed read and the Finishing School series focusing more on younger readers, but they’re not the sorts of things I can really lose myself in.  They’re fun and help pass the time, and they tell cute stories with minimal fuss, but there’s no real complexity or depth to the tales themselves or the characters within their pages.

“Dimity was so pretty and chattery, she quite overpowered the average male.  Many gentlemen were unable to cope with abundant chatter, which is why they so often married it.”

With Curtsies & Conspiracies, this was even more evident, and I can only assume it’s because this series is geared towards a younger set of readers.  Carriger tells a witty tale, and the characters go on a series of jolly romps around the skies and streets of London, but the story really just seems to be happening around us.  We’re dragged from person to person and from place to place, witnessing the occurrences without ever being fully immersed in any of it.  The big finish involved a rescue, the completion of which turned out to be so simple that I found it a bit anticlimactic.

Oddly enough, I found the world of the “sooties” to be more interesting than the goings-on in the rooms of the airship itself.  The common folk who kept that magnificent Finishing School afloat in the grey skies of England were lively and different than any of the other characters within this novel, but the appearance of their little world and hierarchy was woefully brief.  Unlike Esbe, I found Dimity to be one of the few more subtle nods to Victorian society itself; I saw her as a more tongue-in-cheek version of the expectations for actual Victorian ladies, and I read her character as one who was making fun of herself – she is a frilly, lacy, Victorian society girl who is frillier, lacier, and more Victorian than even the Victorians around her… and she knows it.  In fact, she knew this so well that she realized other people found it nearly impossible to take her seriously and, therefore, used those very assumptions of others to her greatest advantage; in other words, the very impression that she was a helpless little dingbat was her greatest weapon.

“A rescuer appeared out of the forest.  ‘You screamed, madam?’  ‘Why, Lord Mersey, what are you doing here?’  ‘Following you, of course.  Spot of bother?’  ‘Little bit of one, yes.’  The young man looked with interest at Sophronia’s opponents, one holding a collapsed Dimity, one bleeding from a gash to the arm, and the third bleeding from a wound to the back.  ‘My dear Ria, you hardly need my help.’  ‘Hardly.'”

In the Parasol Protectorate, a tale unfolded that just happened to occur in an alternate world where almost anything was possible, and brilliant characters like Lord Akeldama stood out as specifically interesting because, in a sea of Victorian politeness, they were cleverly snarky and brazenly spunky; however, Curtsies & Conspiracies contained an entire cast of cleverly snarky, spunky characters who became almost interchangeable in their snarkiness and spunkiness.  This added to my overall feeling that, for some reason, Carriger felt the need to try harder to sell the idea of steampunk and Victoriana to her audience – a tactic that actually sold short her otherwise brilliant wit.  Her writing is done in such a way that the reader can readily and unquestioningly believe in dirigible airships, an “electrosplit goopslimer port,” mechanical maids, a “portable boot-blackening apparatus with pressure-controlled particulate emissions and attached accoutrement to achieve the highest possible shine (for the stylish gentleman on the go),” footmechs, and a “mustache that was a fluffy caterpillar of curiosity,” as well as a school with classes on “drawing room music and subversive petit fours,” “tea and delusions,” and “portion allotment, puddings, and preemptive poisonings.”

This book contains all those things.  There’s even a love triangle for the more romantically inclined.

There’s just no story.

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Sidheag Lady of Kingair crossed with Sophronia.  I could appreciate Sidheag’s bluntness and dedication – she was straightforward and almost crass when compared to the other young ladies of the School, but she seemed to be fully aware of the fact that she was a triangle peg trying to fit into a square hole and wasn’t prepared to give up herself or her personal desires in order to fit in with the School’s expectations.  I also quite liked Sophronia’s constant hunger for knowledge, as well as her drive and focus; she did what felt right to her, and when she committed herself to doing something, she did the hell out of it.

Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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