Etiquette & Espionage: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail CarrigerFourteen-year-old Sophronia is used to her mother’s disapproval and punishments. Even the idle threats of being sent to live with vampires hold little sway when Sophronia is faced with a situation in which she can attempt something daring instead of being painfully, boringly proper.

What Sophronia could not have guessed is that Mumsy would take matters further by sending Sophronia to a finishing school. Nor could she have anticipated exactly what that will mean when the initial pronouncement is handed down.

Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is unlike any finishing school Sophronia could have fathomed. While she can’t be completely sure, Sophronia is fairly certain Mumsy didn’t have this kind of finishing in mind when she sent Sophronia away.

But then who is Sophronia to argue when there are friends to be made with fledgling evil geniuses, inventors with whom to collaborate and all manners of conspiracies to investigate. Manners and dress will certainly be in the curriculum. But so will diversion and deceit in Etiquette & Espionage (2013) by Gail Carriger.

Find it on Bookshop.

Etiquette & Espionage is the first in Carriger’s YA Finishing School series. It is set in the same world as her bestselling Parasol Protectorate series for adults.*

Carriger has already mastered the skills required to write a supernatural, steampunk, historical fantasy. Her alternate history with elements of steampunk and fantasy tropes blend together exceptionally well with the Austen-like tone of her narration.

The world is well-realized and fascinating although often under explained. It’s impossible to say for sure but it seems likely some shorthand was used in world building (or at least world explaining) since so much groundwork has been laid in the earlier Parasol Protectorate books.

With virtually zero romantic entanglements and numerous high-action sequences Etiquette & Espionage is ideal for readers of any age. The story handles several topics (race and class divisions, friendship, wealth and status) very well adding a nice dimension to the plot. At the same time, unfortunately, the pacing often feels off with an immense amount of  setup in the first half of the novel only to lead to a plot resolution that feels rushed in the final pages.

Etiquette & Espionage is a fine start to a series with a cast of characters that are appealing in every sense even if their world might take a bit too long to come fully into focus.

*Etiquette & Espionage functions as a standalone but readers of both series will likely recognize characters in common.

Possible Pairings: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare, Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke Cohen, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman,  My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows; A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha Hastings, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

Darker Still: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Darker Still by Leanna Renee HieberOddities have always clung to Natalie Stewart. Some are tame like the art objects her father collects for the new Metropolitan Museum. Some are stranger like the Whisper that sometimes tugs at the edge of her hearing.

Some are so terrifying that they took Natalie’s voice, leaving her Mute from a young age.

Then there are the things that defy all description like the portrait of Lord Denbury–a painting that seems to call to her, changing as if Lord Denbury himself were beckoning Natalie.

Stranger still, when Natalie answers the call of the portrait she finds much more than a painting. Soon she is drawn into the uneasy world of magic and possession where paintings can act as traps and a body can be stolen with the right words.

In this dangerous word Natalie may love and even her voice. But other, darker things, may find her as well in Darker Still (2011) by Leanna Renee Hieber.

Darker Still is the first in Hieber’s Darker Still trilogy, followed by The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and The Double Life of Incorporate Things which is currently being presented in serialized form on Hieber’s blog (and will culminate with the publication of the complete novel).

For obvious reasons, Darker Still is an epistolary novel–written as Natalie’s diary. The format makes sense and provides opportunities for interesting passages of time and an interplay between “present” moments and Natalie’s narrative asides. However during high action sequences the journal entry form does stretch the limits of believability as Natalie rushes to jot down key scenes.

Hieber’s writing is delightful with Natalie’s breezy, sometimes even impertinent, tone. Natalie is refreshingly brash and independent as she does a lot of the wrong things throughout the plot (for all of the right reasons). Being Mute, Natalie’s narration also offers a unique perspective on life in general and specifically 1880 New York.

While Natalie shines as a heroine, the format and pacing of Darker Still did not leave much room to build up the setting as a backdrop for the story. The journal also created limitations in pacing as Natalie “rushes” to write everything down.

While Denbury is an admirable male lead in terms of looks and personality, his immediate connection with Natalie felt almost too immediate. It works because the entire novel is a bit of a whirlwind but if you think too much about their connection it starts to fall apart.

Darker Still is a fun, generally satisfying, riff on themes found in many a gothic classic with obvious nods to The Picture of Dorian Gray. A great read for anyone eager to try reading historical fantasy, gothic tales of suspense and even steampunk.

Possible Pairings: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney