I’ve decided I really enjoy steampunk. Victorian era practices and fashions, mechanical gadgets, an element of the supernatural… I love it!
When I saw this YA steampunk novel, I was SUPER excited! The whole premise is that Sophronia, a spunky, curious girl, was getting into so much mischief, that her mother begged the headmistress of a prestigious yet mysterious finishing school to do something with her youngest daughter. The headmistress agreed. The only thing is, this finishing school was not a typical academy at all. Of course there were the usual classes in deportment and curtsying, but there were also classes in diversion techniques and combat skills. Who knew that hair pins and fans could become weapons?
As Sophronia undergoes training in both etiquette and espionage, she also unravels a dangerous plot involving communications devices, flyway men, and a nasty upperclassman that she and her merry band of misfits must solve.
Speaking of these pals, they are the ones that MADE the book! The setting was interesting enough (a floating school with mechanical maids, say whot?), but the secondary characters were so vibrant and fun, they are the true stars of the novel!
There’s the other finishing school gals- Dimity and Agatha and Sidheag- who all are loveable in their unique way. Dimity was the most like me- she was drawn towards dresses and sparkly things, and fainted at the sight of blood. Agatha was very quiet and unassuming, and somehow her hopelessness made her pitiful rather than annoying. Then there’s Sidheag, the Scottish gal raised by werewolves, who even though had the auspicious title of lady, nevertheless did not act like one.
My absolute favorite character, however, was a tiny mechanimal, Bumbersnoot. I WANT ONE! He is a little machine animal that wags his tail and curls up to sleep and behaves very much like a real dog, with the exception that he eats coal instead of dog biscuits and does not shed. Trust me when I say that after reading the book, you will be wishing a mechanimal was already invented so you could have one as a pet, too.
While I really enjoyed the book, there were definitely some issues with the story that prevented me from giving it a higher rating.
First, there was the world building. I understand that most steampunk novels take a little while to understand, because the settings can be so different. In Etiquette & Espionage, however, I never did get around to understanding the setting. Paranormals were mentioned, but Sophronia’s family seems to dismiss them as fairy tales. Does her family represent the opinions of most of society, or are most people like Dimity’s family, who are more progressive? Speaking of Dimity’s family, her parents are evil geniuses? Is this a common thing? I don’t understand!
Then, there’s the problem with character development. I felt that Sophronia was fairly one dimensional, and I hated that the only “growth” she underwent during her time at the finishing school was that she suddenly cared more about fashion and proper behavior. I was left wanting more.
Finally, I felt Monique, the evil upperclassman, was kind of unbelievable as far as the source of conflict goes. Her character often felt forced, and I STILL don’t understand what the heck she was trying to accomplish by stealing the prototype. And the wrap up scene towards the end? Much too rapid and neatly tied up for my tastes. It didn’t seem to fit.
All of that aside, I still really liked the book! It had a younger feel than most YA books, but I suppose that is so the MC can grow up during the series. If you like steampunk, spunky heroines, and puppies, you will like this book. Buy it now!