Book two of the Finishing School series
By Gail Carriger
Available now from Little, Brown BFYR (Hachette)
I found the idea of Gail Carriger's Soulless series intriguing, but the execution was lacking for me. Especially after the first two books. However, I kept hearing that her Finishing School series was much better. Thus, I gave it a try. I have to agree.
The second book, CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES, finds Sophronia being ostracized after she scores the highest on their spy skills and etiquette test. Determined not to let it get to her, she keeps spying on her own time to discover what's really going on at her school, beyond the whole training-young-women-secret-skills thing. She's particularly intrigued by an apparent plot against her best friend, Dimity.
Another ripple comes when the school takes a trip to London, accompanied by the boys of Bunson's (a school for mad geniuses). It's highly unusual, and Sophronia is determined to get to the bottom of things, all while flirting politely with Lord Mersey. I feel that the love triangle is overused in YA, but I do like both points of this triangle. Soap is of lower social status, but Sophronia respects his skills and he respects hers. Lord Mersey is to be a duke, which makes him act rather entitled, but his attraction to Sophronia is honest and he has no desire to squash her eccentricities.
At the same time, Sophronia's focus really isn't boys. It's putting the pieces together. Doing so also makes her think more about what her future means. Who will she work for? How will she know she's doing good? She's being made into a tool, and if she's not careful, she could be wielded in ways she does not approve of. Carriger doesn't flinch from depicting the darker side of spycraft.
If you're looking for a steampunk series with humor, adventure, and romance, give the Finishing School a chance. The third book, WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY, comes out tomorrow.