Who hasn’t imagined themselves as a spy? Spy books are great escapist fiction because most of us, at one time or another, have secretly fantasized about how much fun it would be to be a spy. Here in Etiquette & Espionage, the first book in the “Finishing School” series by Gail Carriger, Carriger combines spy training with Victorian manners and etiquette and a splash of steampunk thrown in for good measure.
And while this sounds like a really great recipe for a series, I mostly just found this dull.
Carriger works hard to write this in a ‘proper’ fashion (very turn-of-the-century in language and style) but that propriety doesn’t lend itself to exciting reading. Not that fiction must be ‘exciting’ but one would hope that spy fiction has some level of excitement and/or intrigue.
Perhaps it’s because I’m an older male and not a typical young YA reader (though I generally enjoy YA fiction), but I was overwhelmed with a sense of dull-ness with this book.
While I like books that take an idea and push them to the extreme, I guess I need to clarify that … to push the idea to heighten a sense of conflict and to make strong dramatic tension and suspense. Here the ideas that are pushed to the extreme are things like practicing eye-lash-batting “six rounds of one hundred each before bed.” Okay…I suspect that’s there to be slightly humorous, but it a book that sees and encourages young women to be strong, it’s also a set-back to ask them to be more Victorian-lady-like.
If there’s a plot here, I missed it. There are girls practicing to me more lady-like. Girls dressed as boys. Handsome boys that capture the attention of girls. Robotic animals. Werewolves as teachers. But not so much a plot to stand on. And because of the style of the writing, the sense of propriety and perfection, we aren’t really allowed to get close to the characters. We must remain proper observers. And so without a plot that keeps us turning pages to find out what happens next, and without being able to get close enough to care about the characters, what we have is mostly a book with some clever ideas.
I’m not at all familiar with Gail Carriger, though after reading this book and looking through her catalog of books, it appears that her adult fiction is thought to be better. I hope so. I like the ideas. Now if there can be some interesting characters and a plot….
Will I read book two? Maybe. But only because I already have the ARC in hand.
Looking for a good book? As much as I like the ideas behind Etiquette & Espionage, I can’t recommend it.
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Etiquette & Espionage
author: Gail Carriger
series: Finishing School #1
publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
hardcover, 307 pages