Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Me on Curtsies & Conspiracies

Title: Curtsies & Conspiracies
Author: Gail Carriger
Release Date: November 5, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Hachette Book Group imprint)

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 school 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.

Curtsies & Conspiracies is an entertaining, intelligent, adventurous hodgepodge of spies, evil geniuses, and steam-powered mechanical little dogs. There is just as much suspicion and intrigue as the first book, and with plots and schemes constantly afoot, one girl in particular must keep her eye on everything she can.

Sophronia's intelligence will get her far, as will her knack for observation and her direct approach, but she can be too direct, too blunt, and sometimes without guile when she needs to keep her cards closer to her. It's one thing for the teachers to suspect she's watching them (if most girls in the school weren't watching them, I'd be surprised, but it's quite another for her friends to know that. While it comes natural, why she sees it as keeping an eye on everything, like she's been taught as a future intelligencer, it makes her appear suspicious and unable to trust anything anyone says unless she sees it with her own eyes. It's unfortunate, really. Sophronia is the best friend to have at the school.

A return to this series is a return to creative and inventive world-building. The dirigible that pretends to be a finishing school for young ladies of good quality, the new inventions and various apparatuses that function because of advances in steam technology, the boys school of future evil geniuses, the packs of werewolves and the vampire hives. So much in the alternate England is familiar, but so much isn't, and that's part of the adventure of this series.

This series still seems to be an exploration of the class structure, of how the upper and lower classes know of each other but never mingle. There is polite society, the lords and their ladies, the young gentleman and the young misses, and then there is the working class, the tradespeople and the Sooties. As Sophronia watches everything, she is in contact with both the upper and lower class. It's not that she doesn't see the distinction, she does, she just takes every opportunity she can to gather information. She can see the true worth of some people, and sometimes intelligence doesn't come from classroom instruction.

Romance on the horizon for Sophronia? Heaven forbid, she's only fourteen, but that doesn't stop a boy or two from making an advance or two. I do hope that the romance doesn't take over the next two books. Considering how there wasn't any in the first book, I have hopes that the series will continue to be about adventure and schemes and secret codes without a lot of romance.

The series still straddles the line between serious and silly. The names of some characters and of the different tools and weapons are so foolish, but Carriger still runs with it. While the names and terms sometimes border on the outrageous, the tone of the book is rather serious. In this alternate version of England, at some point in the 1800's, everything is taken rather seriously. And so it should be, the young ladies are students at a very well-known school, looking very important and practical skills that they will, God willing, put into practice in the future, and use them successfully, but that doesn't stop me from laughing every few pages.

(I received an advance copy of this title to review from Hachette Book Group Canada.)

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