Review - Etiquette and Espionage - Gail Carriger

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School, #1)Title: Etiquette & Espionage 
Series: Finishing School #1
Author: Gail Carriger
Genre: Young Adult, Middle-Grade, Spy, Steampunk
Publication: February 5th, 2013
Pages: 320 Pages, Paperback
Source: Thank you to Penguin Books for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review!
Rating: 3/5 Cupcakes!
It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to finishing school.
Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners-and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine's young ladies learn to finish . . . everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage - in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year's education.

As you guys know, I've been marathoning the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy. It's action-packed. It's witty. It's funny. It's got complex characters and an amazing plot. However, when I reached the end of the 7th book flailing and gasping like a fish that's landed out of the fish bowl, I realised I didn't have the 8th book. (I now do, it's on my Kindle and I intend to start it as soon as I've finished my two library books) So I scoured my shelves for a book that I felt like reading. I didn't think about library deadlines or about ARC deadlines. I just felt like picking up a book that gripped my attention and that I was really in the mood for.

And my eyes landed on Etiquette and Espionage.

I've had this book on my TBR pile for two years (it's disgusting, I know) and I felt like reading a book featuring spies. A book set in a school. A book that looked wholly charming and utterly captivating. And though I enjoyed some parts, I was, now that I reflect upon my reading experience, severely disappointed. It wasn't what I was expecting, it was lacking several elements that I like in a book and I have a couple of issues with it. I wanted to love it, I really, really did. But I unfortunately didn't. It had redeeming qualities, but for the most part, I was quite disappointed.

Etiquette and Espionage, the first book in the Finishing School series which features Sophronia, a fourteen year old girl who has a penchant for climbing trees and dismantling mechanical objects. Her mother, at her wits ends, decides to enrol her in finishing school. However, Sophronia soon learns that not only will she be learning how to curtsy, fold doilies and cook five course meals, she'll also learn how to poison enemies, wield a knife and protect herself against vampires and werewolves that roam the streets. This is no ordinary finishing school.

Really, this book sounds like exactly the kind of book that I would enjoy. It's got spies, it's got steampunk (I've never read a steampunk novel before. The Infernal Devices were slightly steampunk but not solely, if you understand what I mean) and it's got an academy for spies. But it wasn't at all what I was expecting. It was extremely disappointing for several reasons:

  1. The Slow-Pace
    I quite frankly found Etiquette and Espionage to be extremely slow-paced. I'm not a fast reader (I read about a page a minute, sometimes two) but with Etiquette and Espionage it was taking me two minutes to read one page. I kept checking what page I was on (which is never a good indication as one should be so immersed in the book that they're not even aware of the fact that they're turning any pages) and I inwardly groaned when I saw I wasn't even half-way through the book. But I pushed on. I wanted to love this book with a burning, fiery passion but my heart sank lower and lower as the pages wore on and I saw no indication of improvement. I was very near to DNFing but the reviews were oh-so-positive and the premise, the whole entire premise of this book is so fascinating and so exciting but it didn't meet the high standards I had somehow mentally set. But nothing happened. There was action in the beginning of the book when their carriage is attacked and then at the end when Sophronia is trying to get the package but other than that, there was nothing that had my heart-racing and my eyes sprinting across the pages. I needed a fast-pace and I thought I would get that, seeing as it is a book centred around espionage but unfortunately, that didn't happen.
  1. The Plot (or lack thereof)
There wasn't a plot in this book. Sophronia went to school, scaled decks, had lessons and tried finding a package that an older student had hidden. And that was it. I was honestly so bored by the endless amounts of description on everything that occurred in Soprhonia's life where nothing much actually happened. There was so much information on her lessons but simultaneously a lack of information on lessons. Like she would tell us about the lessons but they were just like average, ordinary lessons that you would expect from a finishing school. How to walk with books on your head, how to cook a 5-course meal, how to flutter your eyelashes – all this time I'm thinking, where are the spy lessons? We only got brief look into the poisoning lessons and one lesson with a werewolf on how to sword fight but that's it. Where was the physical training involved, where was the rest of the weaponry lessons, where was the other spy training that I was so looking forward to? All I got were a bunch of rich girls practising fainting and fluttering and flirting. I was so severely disappointed that there was no actual espionage lessons and it was mainly just average finishing school lessons.

  1. World-Building
    I was so confused about the world-building that took place in this book. I thought it was a contemporary steampunk book but then there's mentions of werewolves and vampires and I'm like, okay, maybe she's just pretending and it's stories that were fed to her as a child to scare her into behaving (as her family did find her highly unruly) but no - a werewolf appears and I'm like: Yup. It's got mythical creatures. Then there were mentions of flywaymen (I think that's the terminology) and the Pickleman and it's obviously a frightening prospect to the characters but I felt no fear whatsoever as I had no idea what role they played in the world that I was currently inhabiting. I didn't know what they did, I didn't know why they appeared so frightening to the characters as it invoked no fear in me whatsoever. I felt incredibly discombobulated as I had no idea that it contained paranormal elements and some background info would've been fantastic. Dimity (one of the characters) has a brother who attends a school for evil geniuses and whose family wants her to be evil but all Dimity wants to be is a lady and Sorphonia just accepts it. Then I'm left wondering whether or not that's a standard things for some families in Sophronia's world. I JUST WANTED MORE INFORMATION.
  1. Sophronia's Age vs Sophronia's Narration and Wrongly Labelled as YA
Sophronia is supposedly 14 years old, yet her character seems to be represented by a ten or eleven year old. All the characters that we were introduced that were supposedly 13/14 were honestly portrayed a good 3 or 4 years younger. It gave the book a whole childlike manner and that also slightly lowered my interest as I was prepared for a young adult novel filled with a complex plot and dastardly adventures but instead I was met with young seeming characters and a plot that didn't really seem to be leading anywhere, which was quite disappointing.
  1. I Didn't See Much of the World
This also highly disappointed me. The Academy is based across three dirigibles (I think) and it floats in the air. Now, although this was quite fascinating, I do wish they had done some exploring below ground. If this were a contemporary and they had stayed in one section I would understand that, but seeing as this is paranormal/steampunk I would've liked it if they explored other areas. At one stage they went to sneak around the boys school nearby to try to find the package and there was a scene or two that took place in Sophronia's house but I wanted to see more. I wanted to see how the steampunk and paranormal elements took place in other parts of their world. I wanted to find out the world's history and politics and customs but instead I was just propelled into a world and unsure of my footing. If I do read the sequels I really hope more world-building is incorporated.

I also thought, as it's a spy book, that the characters would go on missions and such but they didn't. I really wish that not everything occurred on the dirigible and that I could see the things they learned in their lessons applied in actual real-life missions.

Now although there were, as you can see, quite a lot of things I didn't like, it did have some redeeming qualities. 

1. I Liked the Writing
I liked the quaint writing that suggest the novel takes place in the 1800s (which it does). The things the characters said were highly amusing at times and I enjoyed the banter between the characters. If the writer didn't talk so much about random things and featured more interesting things in the descriptions of the world I think I would've enjoyed it a lot, as I do like the writing style.

2. I (Mainly) Liked the Characters
I didn't love them but they weren't the worst characters that I'd ever encountered. Sophronia was spunky, witty and adventurous and I quite liked Dimity who was a sweet side-kick. Soap and Vieve were utterly adorable as well and they made the book extremely interesting! My favorite characters would definitely have to be Pillover (Dimity's younger brother) and Bumbersnoot, the mechanical "wiener dog" that got into the hands of Sophronia. Although I liked them, I would've liked to feel more connected to Sophronia as I felt more connected to Vieve, Soap, Bumbersnoot and Pillover than the main character. Perhaps I will if I read the rest of the trilogy!

Overall, this was a book I had high expectations for as the premise enthralled me and it seemed like a book that I would immensely enjoy, but in the end it wasn't what I expected. There were several times where I contemplated DNFing it and there were a lot of occasions where I would find myself growing quite bored and it seemed like a struggle to turn the pages. It did improve at certain intervals, but it wasn't a book that held my attention throughout. I liked the writing style and the world seems interesting (although I need more of a background on it) and I quite like the characters but I didn't love them. Most people really enjoy it though, so it's worth giving it a go!

I give it: 3/5 cupcakes!