Today I Read…Etiquette & Espionage

ettiquette & espionageToday I read Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Book the First of the Finishing School series. This series is set in the same universe as the Parasol Protectorate series which I have previously reviewed.

Sophronia Angelina Temminnick is the absolute despair of her mother. She can’t curtsey, embroider, or properly eavesdrop on a private conversation without revealing her presence and absolutely destroying the trifle. Clearly the only possible solution is to send her to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

What Sophronia soon learns at school, however, is that she is not to learn how to finish her education in the genteel arts so mush as she is to learn how to finish others. Etiquette, embroidery, dressing, dancing, and flirting are only half of the curriculum–the other half is occupied with activities such as espionage, murder, mayhem, and all other sorts of useful things for a young lady of quality to know. After all, one never knows when one may be called upon to poison an enemy of the state, and think of the embarrassment if one’s victim died during the soup course instead of the desert! With her new friend Dimity Ann Plumleigh-Teignmott and her Pillover of a little brother, Sophronia will learn to deal with being accosted by flywaymen, how to properly ride side-saddle on a werewolf wearing a top hat, and how to sneak around the school whilst floating a hundred feet above the earth. And perhaps she’ll even save the day and rescue the mysterious prototype–as long as she can do it in the correct dress, of course. One must maintain appearances, after all.

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I originally read Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series last year because steampunk has been in vogue among the nerdy circles for the last few years, and I kept seeing the books around, and my friend Sheena had spoken highly of them (she’s fairly reliable as long as you’re not discussing Stargate, because she is very very very very very wrong about Jack and Sam. Just plain wrong. The end.). I loved the books, and I was pleased when I found out that Carriger was writing a new prequel series set in the same universe. We meet the young Sidheag Maccon and Professor Beatrice Lefoux and little Vieve before Alexia comes across them many years hence. Sophronia has a spirit similar to Alexia while being her own character, one younger and easier to mold into the semblance of a lady without being devoid of a taste for adventure. One wonders if Alexia might have had a slightly easier time creating her Parasol Protectorate had she had the benefit of an education at a place like Mademoiselle Geraldine’s.

This is a lovely addition to the Parasol Protectorate universe, but it isn’t really necessary to read those first, since Etiquette & Espionage does a fine job of introducing the reader to the world on its own. It’s an excellent YA steampunk book, since Alexia and Conall’s relationship in the Parasol Protectorate books might be a little much for younger readers, although true to steampunk-era language it’s never extremely explicit. This book is a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to the next book Curtsies & Conspiracies.

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Across from Sophronia’s mother, sipping tea, sat an elegant lady wearing a sour expression and a large hat. She looked like exactly the kind of woman one would expect to be a vampire drone.

“Here is Miss Sophronia, madam,” said Frowbritcher from the doorway, not bothering to transfer tracks. He glided off, probably to marshal forces to clean the parlor.

“Sophronia! What did you do to poor Mrs. Barnaclegoose? She left here in a dreadful huff and—oh, simply look at you! Mademoiselle, please excuse my daughter’s appearance. I’d tell you it was an aberration, but, sadly, it’s all too common. Such a troublesome child.”

The stranger gave Sophronia a prim look that made her feel about six years old. She was painfully conscious of her custardy state. No one would ever describe Sophronia as elegant, whereas this woman was every inch a lady. Sophronia had never before considered how powerful that could be. The strange woman was also offensively beautiful, with pale skin and dark hair streaked with gray. It was impossible to discern her age, for, despite the gray, her face was young. She was perfectly dressed in a sort of spiky lace traveling gown with a massive skirt and velvet trim that was much more elegant than anything Sophronia had ever seen in her life. Her mother was more a follower of trends than a purveyor of fine taste. This woman was truly stylish.

Despite her beauty, she looks, thought Sophronia, a little like a crow.She stared down at her feet and tried to come up with an excuse for her behavior, other than spying on people. “Well, I simply wanted to see how it worked, and then there was this—”

Her mother interrupted. “How it worked? What kind of question is that for a young lady to ask? How often have I warned you against fraternizing with technology?”

Sophronia wondered if that was a rhetorical question and began counting up the number of times just in case it wasn’t. Her mother turned back to their guest.

“Do you see what I mean, mademoiselle? She’s a cracking great bother.”

“What? Mumsy!” Sophronia was offended. Never before had her mother used such language in polite company.

“Silence, Sophronia.”

“But—”

“Do you see, Mademoiselle Geraldine? Do you see what I must endure? And on a daily basis. A bother. Has been from the beginning. And the other girls were such little blessings. Well, I suppose we were due. I tell you this in complete confidence—I’m at my wit’s end with this one. I really am. When she isn’t reading, she’s taking something apart or flirting with the footman or climbing things—trees, furniture, even other people.”

“That was years ago!” objected Sophronia. Will she never let that go? I was eight!

“Hush, child.” Mrs. Temminnick didn’t even look in her daughter’s direction. “Have you ever heard of the like with a girl? Now, I know she’s a little brazen for finishing school, but I was hoping you might make an exception, just this once.”

Finishing school? Then I’m not being sent to the vampires? Relief flooded through Sophronia, instantly followed by a new horror. Finishing school! There would be lessons. On how to curtsy. On how to dress. On how to eat with one’s finger in the air. Sophronia shuddered. Perhaps a vampire hive was a better option.

Mrs. Temminnick pressed on. “We are certainly willing to provide compensation for your considering Sophronia. Mrs. Barnaclegoose told me, in confidence, that you are masterly with troublesome cases. You have an excellent record. Why, only last week one of your girls married a viscount.”

Sophronia was rattled. “Really, Mumsy!” Marriage? Already?

As yet, the crow had said nothing. This was a common occurrence around Sophronia’s mother. The stranger merely sipped her tea, the bulk of her attention on Sophronia. Her eyes were hard, assessing, and her movements very precise and sharp.

Mrs. Temminnick continued. “And, of course, there is dear Petunia’s coming-out ball to consider. We were hoping Sophronia might be presentable for the event. This December? Well, as presentable as possible, given her… defects.”

Sophronia winced. She was well aware she hadn’t her sisters’ looks. For some reason the Fates had seen fit to design her rather more in her father’s image than her mother’s. But there was no need to discuss such a thing openly with a stranger!

“That could be arranged.” When the woman finally spoke, it was with such a strong French accent that her words were difficult to understand. “Miss Temminnick, why is there india rubber wrapped around your boots?”

Sophronia looked down. “Mumsy was complaining I kept scuffing them.”

“Interesting solution. Does it work?”

“Haven’t had a chance to test them properly.” She paused. “Yet.”

The stranger looked neither shocked nor impressed by this statement.

Frowbritcher reappeared. He made a motion with one clawlike mechanical arm, beckoning. Sophronia’s mother stood and went to confer with the butler. Frowbritcher had a sinister habit of turning up with secrets. It was highly disconcerting in a mechanical.

After a whispered interchange, Mrs. Temminnick went red about the face and then whirled back around.

Oh, dear, thought Sophronia, what have I done now?

“Please excuse me for a moment. There appears to be some difficulty with our new dumbwaiter.” She gave her daughter a pointed look. “Hold your tongue and behave, young lady!”

“Yes, Mumsy.”

Mrs. Temminnick left the room, closing the door firmly behind her.

“Where did you get the rubber?” The crow dismissed Sophronia’s mother with comparative ease, still intrigued by the shoe modification. India rubber was expensive and difficult to come by, particularly in any shape more complex than a ball.

Sophronia nodded in a significant way.

“You destroyed a dumbwaiter for it?”

“I’m not saying I did. I’m not saying I didn’t, either.” Sophronia was cautious. After all, this woman wants to steal me away to finishing school. I’ll be there for years and then foisted off on some viscount with two thousand a year and a retreating hairline. Sophronia rethought her approach; perhaps a little less circumspection and some judiciously applied sabotage was called for.

“Mumsy wasn’t lying, you understand, about my conduct? The climbing and such. Although it has been a while since I tried to climb up a person. And the footman and I weren’t flirting. He thinks Petunia is the pip, not me.”

“What about the taking apart?”

Sophronia nodded, as it was a better excuse for destroying the dumbwaiter than spying. “I’m fond of machines. Intriguing things, machines, don’t you find?”

The woman cocked her head to one side. “I generally prefer to make use of them, not dissect them. Why do you do it? To upset your mother?”

Sophronia considered this. She was relatively fond of her mother, as one is apt to be, but she supposed some part of her might be on the attack. “Possibly.”

A flash of a smile appeared on the woman’s face. It made her look very young. It vanished quickly. “How are you as a thespian? Any good?”

“Theatricals?” What kind of finishing school teacher asks that? Sophronia was put out. “I may have smudges on my face, but I’m still a lady!”

The woman looked at Sophronia’s exposed petticoat. “That remains to be seen.” She turned away, as though not interested anymore, and helped herself to a slice of cake. “Are you strong?”

Down the hall, something exploded with a bang. Sophronia thought she heard her mother shriek. Both she and the visitor ignored the disruption.

“Strong?” Sophronia edged toward the tea trolley, eyeing the sponge.

“From all the climbing.” A pause. “And the machine lifting, I suppose.”

Sophronia blinked. “I’m not weak.”

“You’re certainly good at prevarication.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“That depends on whom you’re asking.”

Sophronia helped herself to two pieces of cake, just as though she had been invited to do so. The visitor forbore to remark upon it. Sophronia turned away briefly, in the guise of finding a spoon, to tuck one piece in her apron pocket. Mumsy wouldn’t allow her any sweets for the next week once she found out about the dumbwaiter.

The woman might have seen the theft, but she didn’t acknowledge it.

“You run this finishing school, then?”

“Do you run this finishing school, Mademoiselle Geraldine?” corrected the crow.

“Do you run this finishing school, Mademoiselle Geraldine?” parroted Sophronia dutifully, even though they had not been properly introduced. Odd, in a finishing school teacher. Shouldn’t she wait until Mumsy returns?

“It is called Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Have you heard of it?”

Sophronia had. “I thought only the very best families were allowed in.”

“Sometimes we make exceptions.”

“Are you the Mademoiselle Geraldine? You don’t seem old enough.”

“Why, thank you, Miss Temminnick, but you should not make such an observation to your betters.”

“Sorry, madam.”

“Sorry, Mademoiselle Geraldine.”

“Oh, yes, sorry, Mademoiselle Geraldine.”

“Very good. Do you notice anything else odd about me?”

Sophronia said the first thing that came to mind. “The gray in your hair. It’s amiss.”

“You are an observant young lady, aren’t you?” Then, in a sudden movement, Mademoiselle Geraldine reached and pulled out the small throw pillow from behind her back. She tossed it at Sophronia.

Sophronia, who had never before had a lady throw a pillow at her, was flabbergasted, but caught it.

“Adequate reflexes,” said Mademoiselle Geraldine, wiggling her fingers for the return of the pillow.

Bemused, Sophronia handed it back to her. “Why—”

A black-gloved hand was raised against any further questions.

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Today I Read…The Friday Society

The Friday SocietyToday I read The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress. You can find Adrienne’s blog here  and the book trailer for The Friday Society here.

Cora, Nellie and Michiko have never met, but they have a lot in common. They all live in London in 1900. They are all the talented, intelligent, strong-willed assistants of famous, powerful men. And together they find a dead body after a ball, a discovery which leads to many questions: Who was the man, and who killed him? Who is killing poor young women in the slums of London, and why don’t the police care? Why is creepy Dr. Mantis so obsessed with eyes? And most importantly, who blew up St. Paul’s Cathedral, and how can the girls stop this mysterious person from blowing up the rest of London as well?

Together Cora, Nellie and Michiko will learn that they have much more to offer the world than just being a lab assistant, a magician’s assistant, and a weapons demonstrator, and that their only limitations are the ones that they accept.

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I know I’ve been on a bit of a steampunk kick lately, and I just want you to know there are more coming. The one nice thing about being out of school and unemployed is all the leisure time to read–thank goodness for the library so I can do it for free. ;p This was one of the books I picked up at the OLA Super Conference in January (you can find my review of the conference here). One of the biggest advantages physical books have over ebooks is that you can get the physical book signed by the author, if you meet them. It’s one of the reasons I like going to conventions like Ad Astra– the chance to meet the creator of a work, ask them questions, and tell them what their work means to you. It makes the book my copy, not just any copy. The Friday Society autograph

One thing that I really liked about this book was that Kress didn’t go for the obvious choice of making the men that the girls work for to be abusive monsters. Cora used to be a street kid, but since being employed by Lord White, she has been educated, housed and cared for, and he values her work both in the lab and managing his life. He perhaps doesn’t say it as often as he should, but he genuinely treats her well. The same thing happens with Nellie’s relationship with the Great Raheem–she used to dance in a burlesque club before becoming his stage assistant, and she does wear skimpy clothing, but she enjoys her pretty costumes, and she is very clearly not a bimbo. Raheem, also failing to conform to the stereotype of a foreign man treating women badly, is both kind and trusts Nellie’s judgement. Michiko’s master Sir Callum Fielding-Shaw breaks the trend by being verbally abusive to her, but that’s also good since it shows that men can’t all be stuck in one box anymore than women can.

Because Nellie and Cora’s lives aren’t that bad, I think they need even more courage to act and change–their lives are good, but they could be even better if they take the risk and stretch their wings. Michiko has already demonstrated her courage by leaving Japan with Callum–he turns out to be a bad man who does not fulfill the promises he made to her, but she still took the leap. It’s easy to be brave when you don’t have anything to lose–it’s harder when you’re jumping from the plateau and not the cliff.

The book comes in on the longer side of YA novels at 437 pages, but most of the chapters are fairly short, so it shouldn’t be a very hard read. The girls are older teenagers, and I think I’d give the book to teenagers as well, for one scene where they have a girls’ night drinking party at Nellie’s home. The scene is played for laughs–it’s a way for the three of them to bond and destress after finding a dead body in the streets–but it is something to keep in mind. There is also a bit of romance, but it is by no means the main focus of the book. Cora is attracted to the new assistant Lord White hires, but decides he’s an ass when he makes it clear that he only likes her looks and doesn’t respect her as a person. Nellie flirts with the young Officer Murphy, earnest and shy, who tries to investigate the murders of the flower girls even though his superiors don’t care how many poor people get killed.

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“Do you really want to be an inventor?” she asked. It didn’t seem like he did. All he’d done in the afternoon was reorganize, yet again, the tools and update the stock sheet. He hadn’t even touched the device, which Cora hadn’t minded one bit. And she had it on good authority from the glass blower, who was still on the premises when she’d gotten in last night, that Andrew had spent most of the afternoon napping in the corner.

Andrew sighed. “I thought I did. On the surface, it all looks marvelous. But after these past few days, I’ve realized it’s a lot of dull work. To be honest, I don’t know what I want, and I don’t think it really matters. Why should someone like me work?”

Cora thought that an odd question. “Because it’s satisfying, because . . . of passion . . .”

Andrew pulled his chair in close at that, and brushed a lock of hair from her forehead. “I have passion . . .”

Cora’s heart was pounding fast again. She didn’t understand how he could have such an effect on her when what he was saying was so pathetic. “Look at Lord White . . .”

“I’d rather look at you . . .”

“He’s rich. He’s a lord. But he gave up his seat in the House of Lords so that he could run for Parliament. So that he could follow his passion of someday being Prime Minister. He didn’t need to do any of it. And this, this laboratory . . . he works just as hard here and only charges for the pleasure so that people don’t figure out he’s someone that can afford to do without. He gives away all the money he earns here to charity, and . . .”

Andrew’s fingers had made it to her neck and were gently caressing it. She lost her train of thought.

“You really like to talk about Lord White,” he said, leaning in and kissing her cheek.

“Well, he’s my boss . . .”

“Not everyone speaks of their bosses like you do.”

“He took me in . . .” She could feel his hot breath on her ear and she closed her eyes.

“What do you think he wants from you?”

That made her open her eyes.

“Wants from me?”

“You know what I mean . . .”

“No,” she said, gently pushing him back so they were face-to-face again, “I don’t.”

Andrew shook his head. “Oh, come on, Cora. Look at you. You’re lovely. And you worship him . . .”

“I don’t worship—”

“He’s trained you well. What else could he possibly want from you?”

Her passion had changed drastically into hot rage. It was an easy transition to make. “I don’t know, maybe he wants my talent. Maybe he wants my company because I’m interesting. Maybe he can’t live without me since I organize every facet of his life, know his dietary restrictions, keep track of every penny in his bank account, all his plans for the future.”

“Now, don’t get angry . . .”

“Why not? Why shouldn’t I get angry? You’ve just said my value as a person is wrapped up in my appearance and—”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Look, just stop, okay? Let’s not fight again. Besides, you have a lot of work to do.” He tried to smile, but she gave him a look that prevented it.

“You’re right. I do.”

Typically, anger distracted her from whatever she was doing, but there was something in this particular brand of rage that suited the task at hand perfectly. It had something to do with proving to Andrew that she was more than just a pretty face.

“I’m really sorry,” he said quietly a few moments later.

“No, you aren’t.”

“I’m not sorry for thinking what I did; after all, you are beautiful. But I didn’t mean there wasn’t anything else to you. I just didn’t think Lord White was aware of it.”

“Well, he is.”

“Good.”

She hadn’t stopped working, but she directed her focus back where it belonged.

“So we’re friends again?”

She looked up at him and gave him a look of death.

“I’ll take that as a yes?”

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TO THE CITIZENS of London and its surrounding Burroughs:

Are you being blackmailed? Does a loved one’s untimely demise seem suspiciously tied to a brother’s new bank account? Are you receiving threats of a personal and/or physically painful nature? Fear not, for salvation is at hand.

We are a trio of lady heroes. If you need us, we will be there. Respond to this advertisement by post, and we shall come to your aid.

We have many talents and skills. But above all things, we know how to assist.

 

Yours sincerely,

Hyde, the Silver Heart, and Lady Sparkle

AKA

The Friday Society

 

Today I Read…Princess Smith

Today I read Princess Smith and the Clockwork Knight by Rob St. Martin.

http://www.talyesin.com/princesssmith.html

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who wore lovely dresses and grew up in the lap of luxury, never wanting for anything or having to raise a hand to work… Wait, sorry, wrong story. Once upon a time there was a girl named Britt. She liked pretty dresses and ribbons, but it was more practical for her to cut her hair short and to wear boys’ breeches so she could help her father work in the smithy. Then one day soldiers came, and they asked her father where the princess was, and they killed him. Britt was forced to run away in the old clockwork armour that her father, the former Captain of the Guardian Watch, had hidden away since she was a child. Britt is Princess Brittania Angelica Gloriana, the long-lost heir to the throne of Erydon, stolen by Captain Warden to save her during the war that killed her family. Now she must find a way to take back her kingdom.

I really liked this book. Britt is very torn between being a ‘normal’ girl and her love of machinery. She does like pretty things, but she likes to work in the smithy and take apart her clockwork toys as well. The other children in the village don’t understand her because she looks  different and acts different (like a boy they say, wearing pants and working in the smithy), and the noble family who tries to help her don’t understand her because she wasn’t raised in a castle with fine things and money. Britt really wants to fit in, but she cannot deny her passion for machinery and smithwork and her need to be useful and not just decorative, the way a princess is supposed to be. Rob St. Martin creates an interesting world and a strong heroine. One issue I do have is with the ending–Britt is ceremonially crowned the princess of the kingdom, but practically speaking the Empire still controls the land. It feels incomplete–I hope that one day Rob will write the sequel and continue the story. Britt is not a girl who will sit back in safety and allow others (men) to win her kingdom back for her, and I’d like to follow her journey.