Title: Curtsies & Conspiracies (Book the Second of the Finishing School Series)
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher/Publication Date: Little, Brown and Company, anticipated pub. Date November 2014
I’m going to preface this review by acknowledging that I am a huge fan of Gail Carriger and I have utterly adored every single book of hers that I have read. So it probably comes as no surprise that I found this book to be wonderful.
I first came across Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series while browsing through Borders. I liked the cover, read the description and made a mental note to come back to it one day. Six months or so later, I finally got around to reading it and was hooked on the madcap mischief of Alexia Tarrabotti. I like Carriger’s books because they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously. They’re incredibly well written and show an obvious dedication to being as accurate as possible when possible. But they aren’t at all stuffy or hard to get into which makes them appealing to a wide variety of readers.
The Finishing School series is set earlier than the Parasol Protectorate series (I’m not entirely sure by how much) and does focus on a younger set of characters who are being educated at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. What at first glance, and to the untrained eye, appears to be a typical finishing school is actually a school of espionage and clandestine activities located on a dirigible. The first book in the series, Etiquette & Espionage, follows our somewhat clumsy but quite clever protagonist Sophronia as she enters and then completes her first year of academy. Curtsies & Conspiracies follows Sophronia’s second year of schooling and involves a deadly conspiracy surrounding an intriguing device.
While this series is aimed primarily at a YA audience, it is easily enjoyed by adult fans as well. There are fewer romantic entanglements involved with the younger set of characters, but there is plenty of amusing awkwardness as Sophronia begins to take more note of her male counterparts and tries to sort out who she is, what she wants, and who she wants. A portion of the plot hinges heavily upon the question of friendship: what defines our friendships, how strong are they, and to what extent do we need them? While espionage tends to be more of a solitary activity, Sophronia’s friends, including Soap, Sidheag, Vieve, Agatha, and Dimity, all continue to play prominent roles in the plot as they also tackle these questions.
The book contains enough mystery to drive the plot and be suitably entertaining without overshadowing the character development that makes the book more than happy fluff. Carriger’s characters are relatable as well as likable, her villains are properly diabolical, the language is clever, and the surprise appearance of a well-known character absolutely made my day. I’m greatly looking forward to the next book in the series and will probably promptly re-read the first two with as much enjoyment as my first read through.